A forum held Monday afternoon by the University of South Dakota Student Government Association addressed Senate Bill 177.
The bill would have limited the authority of the South Dakota Board of Regents to regulate the possession of guns by students on campus, but was shot down 5-2 in a Senate committee hearing Tuesday.
SGA president Alissa VanMeeteren traveled to Pierre Tuesday to represent USD and lobby against the bill, and said the issue doesn’t lie within gun rights, but safety.
“Although I am very pro-gun rights, this has nothing to do with my right – this has nothing to do with my responsibility,” she said. “This has everything to do with keeping our students safe, and this to me doesn’t produce anything of the sort.”
VanMeeteren, along with SGA Senator Hannah McElroy and representatives from other South Dakota universities including Northern State University and South Dakota State University testified against the bill, and the two USD representatives were the first and second students to testify.
“We went up there and, although there were some proponents of the bill, the students in large part were opposed to the bill,” VanMeeteren said. “There wasn’t a single student that testified in favor of the bill. When the legislature was discussing it, they brought that up pretty consistently, in that this bill is for the students, and there are no students advocating for the bill, but many advocating against it.”
Board of Regents Executive Director Jack Warner said he was pleased with the outcome of the hearing, and attributed the committee’s decision to the strength of the students’ testimony.
“This is a good day for student legislature,” Warner said. “The two representatives of USD, Alissa and Hannah, just did an outstanding job just making the case that students do not want guns anywhere and everywhere on campus. At least two of the committee members commented that students were clear on where they stood. The whole group—the representatives from SDSU and Northern as well.”
Repercussions of Senate Bill 177
The passing of the bill would have allowed any public institution of higher education to establish rules or regulations relating to the storage of firearms in campus dormitories, as long as such rules and regulations did not violate the bill’s language.
At USD, students are not allowed to carry guns on campus, but they can store them in their cars or keep them in the ROTC lockers.
In the forum held Monday at USD, students who attended had the chance to voice their opinions, and bring up any questions they had about the bill.
During the forum discussion, some students voiced concerns about their rights to choose not to live with a roommate who decides to carry a firearm, especially since the university and the BOR would not be allowed to inquire whether or not a student is carrying a gun.
Other students also expressed concern about allowing students who are not familiar with guns being allowed to carry them on campus.
Some students were for the bill, arguing it is every student’s right to feel safe while on campus, but suggested some amendments be made, such as requiring students to register their guns with the university as long as the list was not published.
“You shouldn’t be required to answer if someone asks if you are carrying a gun,” senior Josh VanLaecken said. “It is defense against one person wanting to plan an attack. Disclosure is the only thing that should be required.”
Alissa VanMeeteren stressed the issue was a matter of safety.
“One point made today was about responsibility,” VanMeeteren said. “People throw that word around on either side – it’s the responsible thing to do to have guns, it’s the responsible thing to do not to have guns. But this has nothing to do with responsibility. It has to do with safety. ”
But there were numerous problems the university would face besides regulating gun control if the bill had passed. The Medical School, DakotaDome renovations and NCAA sport tournaments would have also been affected.
NCAA rules state that firearms are not allowed in D-1 areas said SGA Vice President D.J. Smith during the forum.The implementation of the bill would have resulted in conflicting policies, making USD ineligible to participate in NCAA tournaments.
“I don’t think people realize all of that – all of the consequences that result from this,” VanMeeteren said. “Someone also said increased regulation might make this OK. But the purpose of this bill is to give students the opportunity to protect themselves, and more importantly, it’s decreasing regulation. This bill is trying to prevent big government, but if you implement this bill then you have to have legislation for the Dome and we’d have to talk about the med school. So really, by implementing a bill that is supposed to decrease regulation, you’re creating a need to increase regulation, which doesn’t make any sense.”
Whether or not students were for or against allowing guns on campus, everyone who voiced their opinion on the issue agreed on one thing: No one wants the BOR’s rights taken away.
Students said they trust the members of the BOR more than state legislators because they are hired to pay attention to education issues and are more attune to what is best for students.
First-year Jacquelyn Wilson is a senator for SGA and attended the forum. Wilson said she was more against the bill before the forum, but can see both sides of the issue after hearing students’ opinions.
“I am a supporter of the second amendment, and I would be in favor of this bill if some of the amendments we discussed were made to the bill,” she said. “My biggest problem with it now is not that people would have guns on campus, because people would be responsible and we would probably have guidelines, but the problem is that it’s taking power away from the university and the Board of Regents.”