Protest on campus has some up in ‘arms’

Cameron Witbeck

It was probably hard for students to miss the members of the NMU Sportsmen’s Gun Club in the Academic Mall this week, due in large part to their matching black T-shirts and another, albeit more unusual accessory — empty gun holsters.

The members of the club wore the holsters as a part of a nationwide silent protest against laws prohibiting concealed weapons on college campuses that lasted from Monday, April 5 to Thursday, April 8. The protest, which is sponsored nationally by the non-partisan group Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, has reignited the concealed weapons debate at NMU.

Fredric Gygi, a sophomore criminal justice major and president of the Sportsmen’s Gun Club, wore his thigh holster for the protest, as he and other members of the group stopped NMU students in the academic mall to ask them how they feel about Carry Concealed Weapons (CCW) permits on campus. Gygi said that he felt the protest received more attention than anticipated after NMU officials issued an e-mail that notified faculty, students and staff about the protest.

“It spread like wildfire after that campus-wide e-mail,” Gygi said. “It blew up.”

Communications between faculty and staff members erupted after the initial e-mail with responses from those opposed to the idea of concealed weapons on campus and those in favor of it.  A few professors said that they would cancel class if a student entered wearing a holster, citing their concern that other students would feel intimidated. President Les Wong and Ron Sundell, the president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) sent out a joint message, which said that teachers should use the protest as a “teachable moment” and not cancel classes.

The statement said, “There are many activities that occur on a university campus which can cause controversy. Because most faculty dislike them or are opposed to them is not sufficient reason to cancel class.”

Gygi said that he felt that the protest would benefit NMU, not distract from the educational experience for students.

“(Some professors) view the holster itself as the intimidating factor. To think that it would disrupt that much of a learning environment is not the right way to go about it, but it’s their prerogative,” he said.

Sarah Eberhard, a junior public administration major and creator of the Facebook group “You don’t need a gun in a classroom,” said that she was initially concerned that the protest would frighten students but felt that the Sportsmen’s Gun Club followed proper protocol by contacting Public Safety and NMU officials before the protest.

“I was not threatened by the protest, I know what I believe and how I feel about the issue. I do think that it was great that they were available to provide their side of the issue in a non-violent way,” Eberhard said.

The members of the Sportsmen’s Gun Club have been available all week in the academic mall to discuss CCW legislation with students. Eberhard said that she felt the club members were approachable and didn’t try to start arguments with students, which is important with such a sensitive issue as guns on campus.

“I strongly advise people to look at both sides of the issue and to try to keep an open mind. This is a very controversial issue that students hold strong beliefs about and criticizing each other and arguing about it is not going to find a solution,” she said.

NMU engineering technology associate professor, Robert Marlor was one of the faculty members engaged in the e-mail correspondence discussing the protest. While many NMU professors and staff members expressed concerns about the protest, Marlor said that he fully supported the students’ right to protest.

“I think the students have not only have a right, but a duty to protest in this way, and it is healthy for the university,” Marlor said. “A core purpose of universities is to provide a place where students and faculty can engage in an organized and respectful exchange of ideas.”

In his 17-year career of teaching at NMU, Marlor said that he has never been threatened by a student and that he doesn’t think that that will change with the legislation.

He also said that professors can use the protest as a chance to engage in discussions with students about their rights and to “ensure the NMU student body that we professors respect them, and we are willing to engage in meaningful conversations with them.”