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Over a Barrel 

Debate over guns on campus likely to continue

Colt Templin has a concealed-carry permit, but he loses his right to carry either of his two handguns when he steps on the University of Pittsburgh campus, where he is a senior majoring in finance and accounting. Off campus, any Pennsylvania resident over 21 with a clean record may apply for and -- pending a background check -- receive a concealed-weapon permit. But Pitt, like almost every other university, prohibits firearms: The student code prohibits students from using or possessing a firearm while on university property.

Templin wants to change what he sees as a puzzling incongruity.

Templin is the events coordinator for the Pitt chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCCC), a national group that formed in the wake of last year's Virginia Tech shootings. Created initially through the social-networking site Facebook, the organization argues that campus gun bans "serve to disarm only those law-abiding citizens who might be able to mitigate such tragedies" as Virginia Tech.

"Though it may sound cynical," SCCC's Web site contends, "most school administrators would rather risk having 32 dead students and faculty members ... than risk having one injured student or faculty member ... for which they might be held liable."

Last April, about 20 members of the Pitt group participated in the nationwide SCCC-sponsored Empty Holster protest, where supporters openly wore empty handgun holsters while staffing an information table. Templin says the action garnered about 70-80 signatures from passersby.

It also inspired a counter-protest from No Guns on Campus, an ad hoc group which set up a nearby table offering students another take on the issue.

As then-junior Cassidy Gruber explains today on the phone from Kansas, "We wanted to show support for the university policy. We weren't trying to make a statement saying that we don't support gun-ownership rights, but that the general consensus of campus supports having a university policy that doesn't allow guns on campus."

Templin admits that getting the ban overturned is at best a long-term fight, but adds that he'll "continue to push." He's already planning another empty-holster day in the coming school year, along with a proposal to have SCCC recognized as an official campus group.

"I hoping that if we were an official campus group, we'd be able to take this issue to the Student Government Board," he says. Only Pitt administrators could overturn the ban, but Templin says going before the board would allow the group to "tell them some of the facts." Being official would also give SCCC better access on campus; for the April action, the group had to set up on Bigelow Boulevard, across from the Student Union.

"Most people's opinions are so entrenched whether guns are bad, or people are bad, or no one should have guns," Templin says.

But "in an election year," Gruber states, "these kinds of things are really important to be talking about. ... I think [the spring protests were] a good show of both sides of the issue."

And both sides will be on hand in the future, Gruber pledges: "This [issue] is something we still support, and just as strongly. If [SCCC] does another protest, you'll probably see us there."

When asked if there has ever been any situation on campus where he might have welcomed the protection of a gun, Templin is quick to say there hasn't been. "But," he adds, "it only takes that one time."

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