TAMPA, Florida - The pep band plays and cheerleaders wave pom-poms in front of the USF student center Monday, but amid all the hoopla of USF Week, there's a much quieter protest going on.
If you look closely, you might see students wearing an empty gun holsters at their hip. Gaines Tidwell says his has prompted "a couple nods and an odd look here and there."
This not some new fashion trend; the students are trying to make a statement. They want state law changed to allow people with concealed weapons permits to bring their guns on campus. The protesters cite both Second Amendment rights and personal safety issues.
"I'm pretty strong, but up against a large person, I probably wouldn't win. So it comes down to self-defense and my constitutional rights," says Emily Schwab, a USF senior who grew up shooting guns in rural Hernando County.
"I'm not advocating that everyone around here carries a gun, but only people who can responsibly handle one, as well as go through the procedures of getting a concealed carry on campus," says Tidwell, a USF senior who owns a handgun.
But not everyone's convinced that more guns on campus equates to more safety.
"I really don't agree with it," says USF freshman Amanda Kelly. "Because if students can carry guns on campus, I'll be walking around feeling more unsafe than I do already."
"I don't feel like students really have the responsibility yet to be carrying guns around," says Brecken Kanz, another USF freshman.
Concerned that the protest might alarm some people or prompt false calls about guns, USF police informed the campus body about it last week. "They might be taken aback if they weren't aware; that's why we took a proactive step," said Lt. Charlotte Domingo, who added that the protest on Monday did not create any campus disruptions.
The protest ends on Friday, but with an ongoing petition drive, this issue has been unholstered. "We're not trying to scare anybody," says Freshman Ben Larrabee, who wears a holster, but does not own a gun. "All we're trying to do is get our foot in the door and have our opinions heard."
A national group called Students for Concealed Carry is helping organize similar events across the country.