Empty holster protest by students supports concealed carry policy

With gun control under the national microscope, a registered student organization at Central Michigan University showed support for concealed carry gun laws by wearing empty gun holsters under their belts last week.

Students for Concealed Carry, an RSO advocating for the right to carry a concealed weapon on campus grounds, hosted the empty holster protest. The group also had a table in the University Center Down Under Food Court and distributed literature about gun control to interested students, sparking a debate campus-wide.

President of Students for Concealed Carry Casey Lang said the group believes with a proper background check and permit, students should be able to carry a concealed weapon on campus.

“Our vision is that CMU is a campus where those who go through the correct training and carry with a level head (can carry a gun) in a concealed manner,” the Stanwood senior said. “(And) that those people who can carry on campus (can) act primarily as deterrent and might, in the unfortunate need, (be able) to defend themselves and those immediately around them.”

He said his group, which has dealt with many misconceptions since its founding, does not want to arm the entire population at CMU, but rather arm those who can carry responsibly.

“Another common misconception is we'll be walking around with these weapons and it will be like the Wild West,” Lang said.

Students on campus have differing opinions on the issue of concealed carry laws.

Saginaw senior Krystin Martinez said students should have the right to carry a concealed weapon on campus.

“We do have the right to carry,” Martinez said. “Most of us are legal adults here.”

She said those who want to obtain a gun will find a way to get one, regardless of whether they have a concealed weapons permit.

Illinois junior Darrien Kamai said everyone notices the empty holster during such a protest and said it gives off a negative message and connotation.

“I don't think (the protest was) the right thing to do here,” Kamai said. “I don't think carrying weapons on campus should be encouraged.”

He said having a concealed carry policy on campus wouldn't necessarily make the campus more safe.

“I think a lot of students are not keen to the idea of having a concealed weapons policy,” he said.

Sterling Heights freshman Patrick Wienckowski disagrees and said students should be allowed to carry concealed weapons on campus.

"If someone who was planning on committing a violent crime knew there would potentially be people with guns around who could stop him, he'd think twice about it," Wienckowski said. "Criminals don't follow laws, so the only people with guns are them and the police, and the police don't always respond to violent crimes quickly enough."

He said despite the wave of deadly mass shootings in the recent past, it is a good time for Students for Concealed Carry to protest.

"Most people are acting purely on emotion because of the recent shootings, and it's good that there's a group with an opposing view trying to make their opinions be heard," he said.

Media Officer for Students for Concealed Carry and Brown City sophomore Quintin Pavel said neither CMU's administration nor police department have contacted the group regarding their message.

CMU Police Chief Bill Yeagley said the group has shared information with the police regarding events like Empty Holster protests and other events.

“The university has a policy of no weapons on campus,” Yeagley said. “Law enforcement is the exception.”

Conversations about gun safety have become more prevalent following shootings at Virginia Tech University in 2007, the Newtown, Conn., school shooting last December and the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting last July. These incidents, among others, have sparked calls for tougher gun legislation across the country.

The Colorado State Supreme Court ruled in March 2012 that students on college campuses who have a concealed weapons permit may carry their firearm on campus.

The University of Colorado Board of Regents said it does, however, have the authority to ban concealed weapons on campus in areas controlled by university police if it chooses to.

Michigan's state legislature is looking to pass similar legislation.

Vetoed by Gov. Rick Snyder in December 2012, Senate Bill 59 would have "eliminated county concealed weapon licensing boards, transferring their duties to county sheriffs," according to the Michigan Legislature website.

Pavel said the bill was vetoed because it came up around the same time as the incident in Newtown and because it did not have an exemption clause in it that would exempt certain establishments from the law.

A new bill has been introduced in the Michigan Legislature, this time featuring an exemption clause.

Meanwhile, Pavel said Students for Concealed Carry is working to get a bill introduced in the CMU Academic Senate allowing for concealed weapons to be carried on campus by those with permits. The bill would state students could not carry the weapon into buildings.

This proposed policy is the same as Michigan State University's current policy.

Having done empty holster protests and debates with the CMU debate team in the past, Pavel said the holster protest educates people about the issue and attempts to quell stereotypes about guns.

“I think the fact (that) you're wearing the holster shows you're educated and opens the door to asking about it,” Pavel said. “(Empty holster protests) educate people about firearms. I think that's one of the goals, to show there's not a negative stereotype about open carry firearms, and we're people who care about safety.”