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Committee sends campus carry bill to South Dakota Senate despite university, student pushback

PIERRE, S.D. — A legislative committee passed a bill that would prohibit South Dakota public universities and technical schools from restricting gun ownership and carry on campuses Tuesday, Feb. 12.

The Senate Judiciary committee by a 4-3 vote on Tuesday passed Senate Bill 122 despite hearing nearly 40 minutes of opposition to so-called “campus carry” from the state’s Board of Regents, Board of Technical Education, Education Association and Police Chiefs Association, as well as student leadership and university administrators. The only proponent to the bill who testified was a lobbyist representing the South Dakota Gun Owners.

“I think we need to listen to the people who came today,” Assistant Minority Leader Sen. Craig Kennedy, D-Yankton, said to committee members before he and two others’ no votes were outranked by four yeses.

“I would submit that the only people who are in favor of this legislation are people of a particular political ideology that want to see that ideology supercede all other thought, reason and positions taken by the students of South Dakota,” Kennedy said. “I think we need to represent the people…. And they don’t want Senate Bill 122.”

Opponents of the bill said that allowing firearms could pose a danger on college campuses, where students are housed in close quarters in dormitories, struggling with their mental health, frequently under the influence or facing dating violence.

School administrators also noted that allowing guns on campuses could increase universities’ insurance liability and make them ineligible to host high-profile events like NCAA championships.

Proponents of the bill said that restricting campus carry is a violation of the constitutional right to bear arms, and that students and faculty should be able to defend themselves in the event of an active shooter situation.

Under the Board of Regents’ current policy, guns are prohibited on campuses, with some exceptions.

Sen. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, suggested to the committee that the current policy violates a state statute that prohibits state agencies from prohibiting pistol carry. However, there is an exception carved out for the Board of Regents.

The bill now advances to the full Senate for a floor debate and vote.