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USF Concealed Weapons Debate Heats Up

The debate over allowing concealed weapons on college campuses is heating up at USF's Tampa campus this week.  We visited the Bull Market, where opponents to the ban set up shop... but they weren't alone.

Most Wednesdays, you know what you'll find at the USF Bull Market in the Marshall Student Center Plaza - apartment complexes pitching discount rent, various student organizations handing out pizza and flyers.

But this past Wednesday, nestled in between a logistics company offering free energy drinks and a charity promoting a scavenger hunt, sat a table covered in a red, white and blue tablecloth.

Credit Mark Schreiner / WUSF 89.7 News
WUSF 89.7 News
Flyer at empty holster event

On it sat a number of pamphlets and flyers, including one saying "Attention Criminals! All law abiding individuals on this campus have been disarmed for your safety and convenience."

A number of student groups, led by the USF College Republicans, were seeking signers for a petition to get state lawmakers to repeal the ban of concealed weapons on college campuses. So far, just over a hundred students have signed it.

"Whether we get a lot of petition signatures or we get none," said political science freshman Justin Homburg, "we still feel like we have to present the view that you don't have to be content with being disarmed on campus, that it's okay to want to defend yourself."

As part of a nationwide protest organized by the group Students for Concealed Carry, Homburg and his fellow protestors have been wearing empty gun holsters on their hips this week to make their point. He says while the reaction on social media to their display has been generally positive, it hasn't been like that in class.

Credit Mark Schreiner / WUSF 89.7 News
WUSF 89.7 News
Ban proponent Wille Dixon (l-r) debates empty holster protestors Richard Wade & Stewart Collins

"We've gotten some people who have made rude comments and we've reached out and said, 'why do you feel that way?' because we've wanted this debate," he says.

Forms of that debate broke out sporadically at the Bull Market. At one point, Richard Wade, an electrical engineering freshman with an empty holster on his hip, faced off with Willie Dixon, an international business junior.

Oddly enough, both are  U.S. Army veterans - Wade served 20 years, Dixon three.

"Having a weapon on campus, I just think it creates thoughts, just negative thoughts. To me it does," explained Dixon. "When I saw the holsters, I'm like, 'Damn, they're bringing weapons on campus.'"

"It creates negative thoughts among somebody who might be inclined to break the law," Wade replied.

Dixon said that while he once wanted to be able to carry his firearm on campus, he's since come to think of USF as a safe place, adding that he'd be willing to pay more in student fees if more law enforcement officers were needed to protect campus.

Wade feels differently.

"Yes, I do feel safe, but the people in Virginia Tech probably felt safe up until the day they got shot."

And while Wade doesn't believe an incident like Virginia Tech will happen at USF, he wants to be able to protect himself in case it does.

"It's like carrying insurance on your car. Even if the state didn't require it, I would have insurance on my car because I'd like to keep my car. If somebody hit it, I'd like for it to be protected."

Credit Mark Schreiner / WUSF 89.7 News
WUSF 89.7 News
Senior Konstantin Ravvin, creator of "USF Students for a Gun Free Campus"

Konstantin Ravvin says it's not that simple. The biomedical sciences senior has helped form "USF Students for a Gun Free Campus" in response.

"We want people to know that if you're going to try to change the law, you are going to have a very strong and a very substantive opposition," said Ravvin.

But instead of using what he calls the "shock tactics" of empty holsters, Ravvin's group is pushing USF Student Government to adopt a resolution deeming the school, in consensus with the student body, as a gun free zone in accordance with Florida law.

"We've just decided to appeal to the student body, we're not going to carry around pictures of the massacred in Newtown, in Virginia Tech or of the thousands of the people that die as a result of firearms in the United States."

Even though such a resolution would be largely ceremonial, Ravvin says it would send a message to Florida lawmakers.

"Due to the large contingency of students in Florida that represent a very large voting bloc, what they say resonates in the Florida House and any legislative in general, even federal government. So if we create this resolution, regardless of the fact that we're already a gun-free campus, this shows (lawmakers) that, if you were to change it or tweak it in some sort of way, you may lose out  in terms of votes, in terms of political leverage, in terms of almost anything."

Ravvin says their resolution is still in the planning stages, while the opponents of the ban say they're forwarding their petition to lawmakers in Tallahassee. They'll continue wearing their empty holsters through the end of the week.

University Police tell WUSF that so far this week, there have been no phone calls in regards to the empty holsters on campus.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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