Walking around Georgia Southern's campus this week, students and faculty may notice a few people wearing gun holsters on their hips.
Don’t be alarmed — they will be empty.
The GSU chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, in conjunction with the national SCCC organization, will hold an Empty Holster Protest Monday through Friday. Group leaders say they want to encourage GSU and colleges all over the nation to allow licensed concealed carry permit holders to bring their guns onto campus.
Ben Banks, president of the GSU chapter of SCCC, said their goal is to make the general public aware of the group and to generate more support for carrying concealed weapons in public places, particularly colleges and universities.
“When you are actually educated about the matter and look into the facts, it’s the complete opposite of the general public perception,” Banks said. “It’s a nationwide protest promoting the legalization to carry on campus.”
According to their national Web site, SCCC was formed, in part, as a response to the Virginia Tech shootings. In less than a year, the national group has attracted more than 25,000 students, faculty, parents and concerned citizens – about 90 percent of whom are students.
The GSU chapter currently has about 20 members, but Banks said more people ask him about the group every day.
Banks said the group isn’t interested in just letting every student carry on campus. In fact, they are only seeking to allow people already eligible to acquire a permit from the state to carry a weapon.
“Definitely. The guidelines are that, in the state of Georgia, you have to be 21 and you have to go through a background check in order to obtain that license,” Banks said. “We want to comply with those rules.”
Bulloch County Probate Judge Lee DeLoach said there are approximately 2,000 concealed carry permits issued in Bulloch.
“We probably average about one concealed carry permit request per day,” DeLoach said. “There’s a consistent flow and it’s a big part of what our staff does. It keeps us pretty busy.”
DeLoach outlined the rules in Georgia for carrying a concealed weapon. An individual must be a resident in the county in which they apply. They must be at least 21 with no felony convictions and no drug related convictions of any kind. They must be of sound mental health, pass a FBI/GBI background check and pay a $44 application fee.
Ken Brown is the chief of University Police at GSU. Even though he’s a life member of the NRA and a staunch supporter of the second amendment and the right to bear arms, he feels that campus is no place for weapons.
“I think an educational environment; I don’t believe is a place to carry guns,” Brown said. “Any reasonable person would understand that there are some places where – I don’t think – it’s appropriate to carry a firearm. I wouldn’t carry a gun into church, a sporting event or a nightclub.”
Jim Alderdan is the sheriff of Larimer County, home to Colorado State University – a university that allows concealed weapons. He is one of the few public voices in support of carrying concealed on campus.
“My point is that whenever you make an exclusionary zone, where you say that law-abiding citizens cannot carry concealed weapons, you’ve created a place where criminals can act with impunity because there is no mechanism to enforce the mechanism,” Alderdan said.
Alderdan said most campus policies, instead of preventing criminal action, simply take away the avenue for personal self-defense.
“A sign at the edge of campus or a policy that says ‘No criminals allowed on campus’ doesn’t keep criminals off campus,” said Alderdan. “So, all you’ve done is put the law-abiding people, who would otherwise be able to defend themselves, at a disadvantage.”
Colorado State University and all the state universities in Utah allow concealed carry on campus. So far, there have been no violent incidents by concealed carry permit holders as a result of the policies.
Brown said the emotionally charged environment like a college campus is not the best place for weapons, particularly guns.
“A university is filled up with young people between 18 and 22 years old. In that environment, a lot of time emotions run high,” Brown said. “There’s boyfriend/girlfriend spats, there is alcohol involved and I don’t want anything escalating beyond words – something that we can’t turn back from.”
Alderdan said he hears this argument all the time about drunken college kids getting their hands on a gun.
“But you have to be 21 to get a concealed weapons permit. That excludes the majority of college kids,” Alderdan said. “It’s a small percentage of the population that’s even eligible to qualify to get a concealed weapons permit.”
According to SCCC, only about one percent of the population is licensed in states where concealed carry is permitted.
Getting a permit to carry a concealed weapon is entirely different than actually facing an extreme situation where there may be a need for deadly force, according to Brown.
“It is exceptionally hard to look at somebody while you have your finger on the trigger,” Brown said. “I know people say ‘I’ll get my gun and do this that or the other.’ But, from experience, it is very emotional and you have to make some very hard judgments. As well as police officers are trained, they still have a hard time.”
Banks said statistics show counties and states that allow citizens to carry concealed weapon see a reduction in homicides and other violent crime. According to Alderdan, after Colorado passed a concealed carry law, based somewhat on his own county policy, it has not seen an increase in violent crime
“In my nine years of history issuing concealed carry permits, our (county’s) homicide rates have dropped and our violent crime rates have dropped,” Alderdan said. “The emotional thing where the streets would run with blood and we would have all these shootouts – that hasn’t occurred.”
Those interested in learning more information about SCCC can visit their Web site concealedcarry.com or look for their page in Facebook. Banks encourages people to find out more about his group and carrying concealed weapons on campus.
“Concealed carry on campus by students, and by faculty really, makes for a safer campus,” Banks said.