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USF Students Debate Campus Concealed Carry

State lawmakers in Tallahassee indicated late last week that a pair of bills that would allow concealed guns on college campuses may not come up for a vote this year.

That didn’t stop students at the University of South Florida from picking up the debate for themselves at a recent Student Government-sponsored event, named “Debate-a-Bull.”

About 100 students and faculty braved a blustery January evening in the outdoor Marshall Student Center Amphitheater on the USF Tampa campus to see two teams go at it.

Two students on each side, one group pro-concealed carry, one against, were chosen by USF Student Government after submitting position papers.

John Wilcox, a senior studying political science, argued that universities aren’t the only place around the state where concealed weapons are expressly banned, and a reversal of those restrictions isn’t being sought.

“There are 14 other where you are not allowed to conceal carry – these include K-12 schools, bars, athletic events,” Wilcox said. “These are places where we can all logically ask why would you need a concealed carry in this place?”

Fellow anti-concealed carry debater, political science junior Michael Jenkins, argued that just because someone receives a concealed-carry permit doesn’t mean they’re necessarily ready to face a potentially dangerous situation. Even though he has a permit himself, Jenkins didn’t think a three-hour class focusing on gun safety, storage, and self-defense laws is enough.

“And the individual must fire five rounds at a paper target at the end of this class,” Jenkins said. “As a former military vet, I can tell you that firing five rounds at a paper target will not make you qualified to try to engage an individual in an active shooter incident or another incident of violent crime.”

Credit Mark Schreiner / WUSF 89.7 News
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Political Science senior Katrina Payne addresses the audience during Debate-a-Bull.

On the other side of the issue, political science senior Katrina Payne talked about how other means of personal protection, like pepper spray or a Taser, aren’t as effective as a gun.

“If someone is very close to my premises that I’m afraid of being attacked or coming after me aggressively, I’m going to be afraid that pepper spray is not going to be able to deter them enough for me to be able to get away,” Payne said.

And Payne’s teammate, finance senior Joshua Knezinek, continually referred to how a ban violates his personal liberty and puts him at risk.

“I should be able to protect myself. I have my girlfriend here today, we have two kids. Which one of you in the audience wants to go to my family and tell them, ‘We’re sorry, your son, your boyfriend, whoever, he died today because I didn’t allow him to protect himself.’

Knezinek also drew the biggest response of the night with his answer to an audience member’s question: could say there are “limits” to the Second Amendment?

“I can clearly imagine the Second Amendment would stop – it’s the period right at the end of it,” he said to a round of applause. “I mean, I’m not an English major but the period ends it!”

After the debate, I asked Knezinek: does he currently feel safe on the USF campus without carrying a gun?

Credit Mark Schreiner / WUSF 89.7 News
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Concealed carry advocate, finance senior Joshua Knezinek, speaks during Debate-a-Bull.

“Yes I do, but it’s also because I’m a six-foot male and close to 300 pounds, so there’s not too many people that feel they’re gonna go ahead and win over on me,” the military veteran said. “A small female, maybe five-foot-one, maybe 100 pounds may not have the same presence of mind.”

At the same time, Jenkins weighed in with a post-debate opinion comparing guns on campus to USF’s recent move to completely ban smoking from its grounds.

“I’m dumbfounded that we can eliminate tobacco on campus, but we want to add guns to campus. If it was up to me and we had a choice between the two, I say bring back the smokers,” Jenkins said.

The audience also weighed in post-debate with their opinions of the arguments they heard.

College of Public Health junior Tessa McKay came to the debate against concealed carry, and didn’t hear anything that changed her mind.

“I think that the statistics are pretty clear if there are guns, they are more likely to be used, it’s pretty obvious,” McKay said. “And I believe that, as a small woman, I’m five-foot-three”, I can easily be overpowered and that gun can be used against me instead of using it to my protection.”

Poliltical science senior Jean Alonso remained in favor of concealed carry. He also hinted he would carry a weapon on campus if he was allowed to.

“I wouldn’t really announce what I would do because obviously the whole aura of concealed carry is not letting others know what you’re doing but I would definitely take advantage of that bill and I would definitely feel a lot safer on campus knowing that permitted individuals are doing so,” Alonso said.

And history major, freshman Michael Hamp, came in standing against guns, but shifted his stance to what he termed a more moderate one, saying he’d want to see what kind of plans the university would adopt if guns were allowed on campus. He cited Knezinek’s arguments as one reason for his change of thinking.

Credit Mark Schreiner / WUSF 89.7 News
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An informal poll of the audience's feelings both before and after the forum showed a shift in thinking from an even split to 70-30% in favor of allowing concealed carry on campus.

"I appreciated his opinions on civil liberties like, you don’t get prosecuted before the action, so his right to bear arms, is being taken away from him before he’s even done anything," Hamp opined.

In the end, quite a few people thought like Hamp. An informal poll of attendees before and after the debate showed the audience feelings shifted from being equally divided on the subject to being 70 to 30 percent in favor of allowing concealed carry.

And even though the audience was just a tiny portion of the 42,000 students on USF's Tampa campus, senior biology major Jeremy Lomax said that the debate was important because it got an important conversation going.

“I feel like it was kind of a good event to get started, but like the moderator said, there’s a lot more that needs to be talked about,” Lomax said.

A video report on Debate-A-Bull will be on the debut episode of the new half-hour University Beat TV show premiering on WUSF TV February 14 at 6:30 p.m. The program will also rerun a number of times on WUSF TV and WUSF Knowledge 16.4. You can find our TV schedule by clicking here.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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