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Advocates For Open Carry Warn OSU Students Are 'Sitting Ducks'

Open Carry advocate Jeffry Smith at a 2016 protest on Ohio State's campus.
Esther Honig
Jeffry Smith, the organizer for the demonstration, stops to talk to an OSU student who says he's in favor of open carry on campus.

On Monday, a group of armed civilians walked through the Ohio State campus as part of a demonstration for open carry at state universities. In light of last week's attacks, when an OSU student carried out a car and knife attack that wounded 11 people, this group believes that more gun owners on campus could stop or prevent a similar situation.

Students headed to class or parents partaking in a tour might have spotted a group of 17 heavily armed men and women walking around campus.

Jeffry Smith, the organizer for this demonstration, wore a red jacket, a knit beanie and a long semi-automatic rifle strapped across his chest, and he stopped to talk to a number of curious passersby.

The whole group would light up in friendly conversation when anyone came to them with questions or a concern about gun laws. 

"This walk-about is to advocate for concealed carry on campus, which is currently illegal," Smith said. "And it's also to engage in dialogue with people."

Like other public universities in Ohio, OSU prohibits students from carrying a gun on campus. But the state legislature is currently considering a billto change that.

Smith says this is his seventh campus demonstration. The group has previously marched at Bowling Green and Miami University, to name a few. The timing of today's walk, he says, was no coincidence.

"The reason that I did this when I did this is because of the attack last Monday," Smithn said. "I feel like, and I have felt like for a number of years, that the students on campus are like sitting ducks."

In an interview with WOSU, University president Michael Drake said he was comfortable with only professionals handling attacks on campus. He said it's a sign that campus security is effective that the car and knife attack, carried out on by Abdul Artan, was stopped within minutes.

Credit Esther Honig
Protestor Katie Yoho (center) is a student at Youngstown University. She says students should have the choice to carry a firearm wherever they please.

Virgil Vaduva, a participant on Monday's walk, says that was a matter of luck - the officer who shot and killed Artan happened to already be at the scene responding to an unrelated incident.

"That cop being there when this happened was pure luck," Vaduva said. "And if he had not been there, probably a lot more casualties and probably a lot worse things would have happened. Perhaps an armed student could have stopped him, you never know."

Students passing the group generally had one of two reactions. Some, like Marko Jesenko, stopped to introduce themselves and show support.

"I think it's perfectly legitimate to have conceal and carry on campus," Jesenko said. "In my humble opinion I think it discourages gun violence in particular."

Other student gave a look of astonishment as several people in the demonstration carried long semi-automatic rifles. One of those, MBA student Ruchita Saluja, says she was on campus during last week's attack.

Saluja says changing the open carry restriction would not make her feel safer.

"If anything, probably having more of security on campus, that would be more reassuring than the students having the weapons," she said.

There are currently eight states where students are allowed to carry guns on public universities, including Colorado, Wisconsin and more recently Texas. Harrison Sorm, 19, thinks Ohio should join that list. 

A participant in the demonstration and a current freshman at Kent State University, Sorm says he knows not everyone agrees with him, but he would feel much safer at school if students and even faculty could carry firearms.

At Kent State, Sorm is not allowed to carry a gun - he has to comply with the student code of conduct. But because he's not a student at OSU, it's perfectly legal for him to carry his assault rifle through campus.

Sorm says demonstrations like these give people, many of whom haven't spent much time around guns, the chance to make an informed opinion about gun laws.

"Some people don't know anything about guns, but you know, maybe once they figure out what pertains to these and what the laws are around them, they might like these the same way people like cars," Sorm said.

Towards the end of their walk, student Taribo Osuobeni runs up to the group group to ask them questions about conceal carry laws. He says, in the wake of last week's attack, it's an important conversation to have, but something to be approached with caution.

"Realistically speaking, I think it's very dangerous if we have like 60 students with guns on campus," Osuobeni said. "I think it brings a lot of chaos that we don't need."