The state House has voted down a measure that would allow people 21 years or older to carry a concealed weapon at the University of South Dakota.
House lawmakers voted 48 to 20 to dismiss House Bill 1206, which was opposed by student groups who lobbied lawmakers to deny the proposal.
The House Local Government Committee voted 8-5 Feb. 12 to approve the proposal, which would apply to all six public universities in South Dakota. State law requires a concealed pistol permit to conceal a weapon while carrying it or storing in a vehicle. But the bill looks to sidestep a South Dakota Board of Regents rule that prohibits guns on public university campuses.
[notification type=”information” title=”What to know about HB 1206″]1) The South Dakota Board of Regents and public universities cannot adopt or enforce rules that restrict the right to carry or possess a concealed pistol, assuming the person is compliant with state statutes for concealed carry. 2) The individual has to be at least 21 years old. 3) Universities retain control over carry or storage policy in any dormitory or campus housing unit. 4) The SDBOR or university can restrict concealed carry policy as a requirement to host or participate in a national event or tournament. [/notification]
Opponents include University of South Dakota’s president, James Abbott. He referred to the proposal as “unfortunate and wrongheaded” and said it was a philosophical statement and little else.
“Guns and students on campus don’t mix very well,” Abbott said. “I have no objection to firearms … My concern is, ‘Do you really need to carry a gun in the DakotaDome?’ ”
Rep. Jim Stalzer, who initially proposed HB 1206, said during the committee meeting that it was students who prompted him to craft the bill in the first place.
The Republican from Sioux Falls said he wants to address some of the concerns with the South Dakota campus carry proposal, but pushed back against student testimony that said his bill would harbor an unsafe learning environment.
“They go off campus, they go to Walmart, they go to wherever, and if they run into me, they may well have run into a person who is armed,” Stalzer said at the Feb. 12 committee hearing. “I think that’s one of the deterrents of our concealed carry laws is you don’t know, and that makes it bad for the bad guy.”
BOR, law enforcement expects policy, financial ramifications
The bill passed the legislative panel despite objections from SDBOR representatives. Jack Warner, executive director, unsuccessfully urged the committee to abandon the measure because he said the proposal would only make students feel less safe.
The implications of the bill fly in the face of local control, said Janelle Toman, SDBOR director of communications. She said if enacted, the impact will be both political and financial.
The monetary impact of “campus carry” has already played out in Idaho. The Idaho Statesman reports that five of the state’s universities and community colleges have spent more than $1.5 million to beef up security after the law allowing concealed weapons on campuses was approved. The schools expect total costs to increase to more than $3.7 million for the year.
Law enforcement is also trying to find some solid ground on how to deal with numerous gun bills being introduced this session. Clay County Sheriff Andy Howe, president of South Dakota Sheriffs’ Association, said his organization cannot fight them all.
Similar campus carry bills have been proposed over the years and have even passed through the House, but Howe said he does not know what to expect from HB 1206.
“It might just pass this time. There are so many gun bills this session, and the advocates are really throwing their weight into it. The gun lobby is very aggressive — I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.
South Dakota lawmakers also debated several bills to expand where concealed weapons are allowed. A measure to authorize lawmakers to have weapons in the Capitol building if they undergo training was defeated in a Senate committee, which approved a similar measure for sergeants-at-arms.
Howe said state gun laws are fairly loose, but that House Bill 1206 would take authoriy away from the Regents. He said police procedure would not change much, though, because law enforcement does not assume people are unarmed.
“We aren’t naïve to think there aren’t weapons on campus now,” Howe said. “But we are cautious of any gun law changes because we need to be able to educate the public about what is and isn’t permitted.”
Students can already store their guns with the University Police Department at USD. Individuals are assigned a gun locker, and the owner is the only one who can retrieve their firearm.
UPD Director Pete Jensen said in an email that he is not sure of all the ramifications of the bill. However, he said no one has explained to him how the passage of this bill will make USD’s campus safer.
Easy accessibility to weapons is among the concerns UPD has about the bill, UPD Lt. Jef Rice said. For now, he said it is a matter of waiting and watching from a law enforcement perspective.
“There’s no need for it — plain and simple,” Rice said.
Students speak up for ‘campus carry’
Sophomore Garrett Bankston was 16 when his dad got a conceal and carry permit. Bankston was around firearms for years, but waited before getting his own conceal and carry permit.
“It’s something that requires a lot of thought, research and maturity. I didn’t think that at the age of 18 that I needed a handgun,” Bankston said.
Bankston got in touch with Students for Conceal Carry,
the national advocacy group that approached Stalzer to propose HB 1206. The sophomore said he receives mixed responses from fellow students about “campus carry,” but he wants critics to know permit holders are thought not to “do anything you wouldn’t have done without a gun.”
“If you haven’t been raised with an understanding of how to responsibly use a firearm, I understand why you have those fears,” Bankston said. “I conceal carry because I don’t want people to feel uneasy. But there comes a point where people’s irrational fear affects my right.”
About 12 percent of South Dakota residents have conceal and carry permits, reports the Crime Prevention Research Center. Students for Concealed Carry report that seven states have some form of law governing campus carry.
Students for Concealed Carry report that seven states have some form of law governing campus carry.
Senior Joe Bliss, a concealed carry permit holder, is working as a registered lobbyist for Students for Concealed Carry. He testified as a proponent of the bill in the Feb. 12 committee meeting, and said opponents to the proposal seem to have an “alarmist” attitude about firearms on university campuses.
“This bill is meant to be a moderate approach. It is written to pass and it is written with a degree of discretion for the Board of Regents,” Bliss said. “That discretion allows for firearms to be kept out of certain parts of campus.”
Students oppose ‘ambiguity’ of gun bill
Student governments around the state are attempting to make their opposition to the bill noticed. All six student senates opposed HB 1206, said Jessica Peterson, executive director of the Student Federation.
Peterson, a senior at USD, said there is a lot of frustration among student leaders who believe the legislation is taking away local control from universities by making statewide declarations about how regental policy should be enforced.
“One of the issues is it’s poorly written and incredibly ambiguous,” Peterson said. “And there are so many questions. We don’t know if we would lose federal money, but that’s one of many rumors about the effect of the bill.”
Students, such as Student Government Association President Tyler Tordsen, will be heading back to Pierre this week to urge legislators to vote against the gun bill. The Student Federation also supplied legislators with bill opposition packets, Peterson said.
Tordsen said he does not think guns on campus would make it a safer place to learn.
The SGA president disapproved of how the committee acted in response to student testimony. Tordsen said members agreed the opposition had won the argument but proceeded to pass the bill to the full state House floor.
“I feel like my time was wasted. They had already decided before any of us ever got in the room,” he said.