State house reloads gun bill


Amy Poppinga

A bill to allow concealed weapons on the campuses of public universities in South Dakota that died on the Senate floor last week has found new life in the state House of Representatives.

HB 1257 was first read in the House on Feb. 2, four days after the same measure was killed in the South Dakota Senate. This bill will first be heard in the House Education Committee, though no hearing had been scheduled at press time.

“The people who are sponsoring this bill have put a lot of work into it, and they don’t want it to die,” said Brian Eckrich, president of the SDSU Rifle Association.

SB 82, the Senate concealed weapons bill, failed on Jan. 29. Sen. Pam Merchant, D-Brookings, was one of 25 senators who voted against the measure; 10 senators voted for the measure.

“This bill got a full, informed hearing in the Senate,” said Jim Shekleton, the lawyer for the Board of Regents. “? I hope the House would review it in the same manner and concur with the Senate’s judgment.”

Shekleton said the Regents opposed SB 82 and would probably do the same for HB 1257.

As for Eckrich, the junior chemistry major was not surprised that SB 82 failed in the Senate because the idea is so new to the state.

“We’re setting a precedent,” said Eckrich. “People are sometimes scared of new ideas and change.”

Eckrich admitted that the bill is not the most popular, but he said people may be basing their opinions on misconceptions. HB 1257 does not give everyone guns; it allows those already able to carry concealed weapons in other public places to protect themselves on campus.

“I don’t see how it’s any different on campus than it is off,” he said.

Despite the setbacks this year, Eckrich is still hopeful for the House bill. Last year, the concealed weapons bill, HB 1261, was passed 63-3 in the House before being killed in the Senate State Affairs Committee.

Alex Halbach, executive director of the state Student Federation, disagrees with the decision to reintroduce the measure.

“It’s frustrating that they introduced the same bill that didn’t pass the Senate and didn’t pass last year,” he said. “It’s a waste of valuable legislative time.”

Both the Student Federation, which is made up of student government presidents and vice presidents from each of South Dakota’s public universities, and the SDSU Students’ Association passed resolutions against the Senate’s concealed weapons measure. The two groups opposed the bill due to safety concerns.

“For students, it’s scary to think in biology class in Rotunda D someone sitting next to them could have a concealed weapon, and there’s nothing they can do about it,” Halbach said.

Overall, Halbach said the new House measure is upsetting because it seems like legislators are not listening to students, the exact people the bill is supposed to benefit.

“The students never asked for it and aren’t supporting it, yet it keeps coming back,” said Halbach.

“Thirty thousand students (in the regental system) are saying that they don’t want this, so why are legislators pushing this?”

Both sides encouraged students to contact their state representatives. SDSU students are represented by Sen. Pam Merchant, Rep. Carol Pitts and Rep. Larry Tidemann.