Two University of South Alabama students were confronted by campus police Wednesday, and one student was cited for “causing alarm” by wearing an empty holster.
“This week is the empty holster protest for Students for Concealed Carry in Alabama to demonstrate that students are defenseless on campus,” D.J. Parten, president of Students for Concealed Carry, told Campus Reform. Along with fellow club member Kenneth Tews, Parten was also promoting an upcoming screening of the movie Can We Take a Joke? when three campus police officers approached their table demanding identification.
Video footage, obtained by Campus Reform, shows one of the police officers asking to search the students, and when they exercise their right to refuse, another officer becoming aggravated and warning that he will find something to charge them with if they remain uncooperative—a threat that is eventually carried out against Parten.
The school’s website states that “all weapons are prohibited in University housing buildings, parking lots, and on University property” adding that “this includes, but is not limited to, bullets, ball bearing bullets, bullet balls, pellets, firearms, guns, knives, paintball guns, air guns, hunting bows, archery bows, swords, martial arts weapons, and replicas of such weapons. Toy and water guns are prohibited.”
Parten protested that nothing in the policy even implies that he is not allowed to wear the empty holster, particularly since he was doing it as a way of drawing attention to the school’s no-gun policy, but made no headway with the intractable officer, who insisted that the empty holster represented a potential safety hazard because it implied the existence of a firearm whose whereabouts he could not ascertain.
“Is this just because I have a holster on me?” Parten asks the officer after turning over his identification.
“Yeah, it is, because somebody called it in,” the officer replies matter-of-factly. “You know there’s a no-weapons policy out here, but still you want to push it.”
“Uh … this is a protest,” Parten submits after a short pause, evidently caught off-guard by the notion that an empty holster might violate the policy.
“Did you get permission to wear it?” the officer queries him.
“I don’t need permission to wear it,” Parten replies confidently.
“You need permission from the university.”
“To wear a holster?” he asks with undisguised incredulity.
Standing his rhetorical ground, the officer simply shrugs off the challenge and says, “There’s a no-weapons policy here.”
“It’s not a weapon.”
“I understand that,” the officer concedes. “Take it up with Dean of Students, then, because y’all are gonna be written up for disciplinary [sic], and I will put in there your attitude, you understand?”
Assuming a more confrontational demeanor, the officer then turns to Parten and states, “So I’m gonna ask you one more time: where’s the weapon?”
“I don’t have it,” Parten tells him. “It’s at home.”
Later in the video, though, the first officer calls Parten over after the others have stepped away and acknowledges that neither of the students had technically done anything wrong, then requests “for your safety as well as mine” that they be more compliant in the future when officers respond to reports of a possible weapon.
“What you’re doing is not against the rules or the law,” he explains, “but when we get a call thinking somebody might have a gun, you have to be polite and cooperative, because if you start being difficult, [it looks like] you’re carrying something.
“Your friend here had his hands in pockets, and he kind of laughed when I asked him to take them out, but he forgot that he put this little folding knife—that has a clip on the outside—in his pocket.”
Parten and Tews counter that, at least with respect to the holsters (which were the reason the officers were called, in the first place), they were engaged in a public display that was explicitly billed as an empty holster protest.
“There’s some people in here that disagree with what you’re doing,” the officer informs them. “And when they see a holster, they call in; it’s just part of your protest.”
After a few minutes, the other officers return to the area bearing a citation charging Parten with violating sections 7G and 7N of the Student Code of Conduct.
Section 7G is titled “Engaging in activities that threaten the safety of the campus community,” and pertains to behaviors such as “intentionally or recklessly misusing or damaging fire or other safety equipment; use or possession of fireworks or incendiary, dangerous, or noxious devices or materials which have not been authorized by University officials; or intentionally initiating or causing any false report, warning or threat of fire, explosion, or other emergency.”
Section 7N merely states that students are prohibited from engaging in any conduct that violates university rules, regulations, or policies.
Before leaving, the officer asked Parten to remove his holster, warning that he will be written up for the same violations again if the department continues to receive calls about it, but Parten refused and the officers departed without further incident.
“The right to self-defense shouldn’t end because someone chooses to get an education,” Parten opined.
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