Senators Shoot Down Bill That Would Ban S.D. Public Campuses From Restricting Firearms

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South Dakota’s public universities and technical institutes can continue local policies regulating firearms on their campuses.

State senators voted 24-10 Tuesday against legislation barring “any rule, regulation, policy, standard, or other directive that limits or restricts the right of a person to carry or possess a firearm within the boundaries of the institution, beyond those limitations or restrictions set forth in law.”

Senator Lance Russell, a Hot Springs Republican, sponsored the measure. SB 122 would have applied to state universities and tech schools in communities such as Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Aberdeen, Watertown, Brookings, Mitchell, Madison, Vermilion and Spearfish.

Governor Kristi Noem recently signed a new state law allowing permit-free concealed carry of pistols. But many senators voted against Russell’s legislation because they don’t want guns in dorm rooms or many other places on campus.

Black Hills State University is in Spearfish where Republican Senator Bob Ewing lives. “I heard from the administration as well as quite a few of the students that this would make it an even more unsafe environment by allowing this bill to pass through,” Ewing said.

Senator Art Rusch, a Vermillion Republican, has the University of South Dakota in his city. He said Russell’s bill would allow “strangers, trouble-makers, gang members” to carry guns on campus.

Senator Craig Kennedy, a Yankton Democrat, was on the Senate Judiciary Committee that recommended the bill 4-3. “Every student association passed a unanimous resolution opposing this bill,” Kennedy said.

Some of the bill’s supporters argued hard for its passage. 

“Bad guys are always going to have guns,” Senator Phil Jensen, a Rapid City Republican, said.  “Having a rule that you can’t have guns on campus isn’t stopping all of the mass shootings we’ve had at schools, universities, gun-free zones.”

Senator Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, said firearms are a right guaranteed, in the South Dakota Constitution.

“It’s Article 6, Section 24,” Nelson said. “And I will quote: Right to bear arms — The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and of the state shall not be denied.”

Russell had the final word: “If in the next year, between now and the legislative session, we have a shooting on one of these campuses in one of these large halls, and there are 20 or 30 killed, my conscience is clear.”

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