UT Student Senate rejects resolution supporting conceal-carry on campusWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
A small sign on the doors of the University of Toledo Student Union informs anyone entering the building that weapons aren’t permitted. But, inside that same building, a few students wear empty gun holsters to protest this policy.
Currently in Ohio, it is illegal to carry a weapon on a college campus, even for those with a conceal-carry weapon permit (CCW). From Feb. 4-7, while wearing empty holsters, the UT College Republicans have handed out literature against this policy at a table in the Student Union. Some students have also worn their empty holsters to class and around campus.
“The open holster thing has been done at college campuses all across the country so we wanted to bring it here to Toledo,” said Scott Mazzola, president of the UT College Republicans.
“There’s a lot of the student body who doesn’t know much about the issue,” Mazzola said. “We want to get them to think, do the research, get them to see that guns can keep you safer when they’re in the hands of someone who knows how to use them.”
To receive a CCW, applicants must take a class and meet other requirements, including passing a background check and being 21 or older.
On Feb. 5, with a vote of 18-9, UT’s student senate voted down a resolution that supported changing CCW campus restrictions across the state. More than 5,000 students responded to a poll on the resolution. About 49 percent voted in favor of the resolution, 45 percent voted against it and 6 percent of voters were neutral.
“It makes me uncomfortable because the general student body was in our favor, but it seems like student senate isn’t doing a very good job of being representative of that situation,” Mazzola said of the vote.
After the vote, Student Senate Chair Lauren Jencen said she was personally against the resolution although she was not permitted to voice her opinion during meetings because of her position.
“I don’t really feel comfortable going to class and not knowing who has weapons on them and who doesn’t,” she said.
Jencen added that while she appreciated people being made aware of student government, “Hopefully, we can focus on things to better the university as opposed to political agendas.”
Senator Clayton Notestine sponsored the resolution after the College Republicans wrote it.
In an email, he said, “Although, I didn’t agree with the resolution, I knew the issue was a major topic for a portion of the student body. As a representative of the student body, I agreed to give it the necessary sponsorship in order to be debated.
“If anything productive has come out of this debate, it’s the implication of national politics within our student government. It’s my opinion that our duty is to focus less upon the politics of the nation and more on the politics of our university and student body. By committing our resources to this debate we lost the opportunity to tackle more controversial topics like campus restructuring, parking, student safety, and student centered agendas.”
Student Government President Paulette Bongratz said she believes no amount of debate would change most senators’ minds because it’s a personal safety issue for many.
She added that she would have liked the resolution to pass because she wants to see students affecting change in Ohio.
Bongratz was also one of the students wearing a holster during the week. She said that a student in one of her groups asked her about the holster, but overall she hasn’t had any issues while wearing it.
“I recently was trained how to use a gun. I used to be afraid of guns and having the opportunity to learn and be taught about them, I no longer fear them,” she said.
Mazzola, who plans to apply for a CCW in the spring, said he believes gun rights are a constitutional and personal safety issue.
“A lot of people think [if they have CCWs it means people] expect them to be heroes if there were some sort of tragic mass shooting, that these people with the CCW would be running out the classroom to go stop them. That’s not what it’s for,” he said.
He added that if a criminal knows you have a gun, he believes he or she will back off before a shot is taken.
“If someone comes up to me late at night when I’m getting in my car, and says, ‘Hey, give me you wallet,’ I say, ‘Hey, look I have this gun. Take a walk.’”
Nick Nykodym, a business professor and a UT College Republicans faculty advisor, said he believes people who want CCWs commit fewer crimes because they want to make sure they pass the application process.
“People with CCWs tend to lead a more law-abiding life,” he said.
Chief Jeff Newton of the UT Police said the College Republicans did a good job of meeting with him beforehand and applying for the event. However, he said, “I think it would be less safe [if CCWs were permitted on campus] so I am not in favor of any kind of changes to the law.”
He said long-term safety has to be evaluated instead of isolated incidents.
Newton added that the empty holster wearing is a common form of protest and that, “We certainly support anyone’s ability to freely express their opinions.”
Before the resolution vote, freshman and College Republican Nick McCullough said, “I feel really safe on campus now but I feel if [the resolution] passes and the Ohio law would pass, I’d feel even safer.
“Campus police do a great job responding to different events but law enforcement, it’s a reactive approach and this is just taking a proactive approach.”
Sophomore Tiffany Fulford, who stopped by the table, said the university has a police force to deal with those situations.
“I feel like it would be less safe [if CCW law were to change] because it’s more people with guns and it’s more people who could have bad judgment as to who’s a criminal. It could be like Trayvon Martin,” she said.
Mazzola said that people on both sides of the issue have brought up the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting to him. He said that the political response to the shooting made the protest a priority.
“We’ve had this CCW resolution in the works for a while and after Sandy Hook, we decided let’s pursue this over anything else because of all the media attention on it,” he said.
“We’re not stopping here for sure. That survey that was in our favor, we’re definitely going to use that. There’s also a lot of universities around Ohio that are doing this exact same thing, so we’re going to collaborate with them through the College Republican Federation and hopefully be taking this to Gov. Kasich some time in the near future.”