Nathaniel Sheetz doesn't care if you notice the empty gun holster strapped to his right hip this week.
That's the point, he said.
"People who carry concealed weapons go about their daily lives just like anyone else would,"
Sheetz (graduate-industrial engineering) said. "We are trying to show people that just because we might be carrying weapons, that wouldn't impact how we go about our business."
This week, college students throughout America, organized under Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, will attend classes wearing empty holsters, protesting campus policies that contradict legally, state-issued concealed weapon permits. Sheetz, who promoted this cause through Facebook, fliers and e-mails to campus groups, expects several dozen Penn State participants.
"I don't think it's fair for me to have to disarm on campus when I am allowed to carry a weapon in the grocery store, the movie theater, the shopping mall," said Sheetz, one of more than 500,000 Pennsylvanians registered to carry a concealed weapon. "I'd be violating a university policy and I could get suspended or expelled."
State-permitted students caught carrying weapons on campus are evaluated by Judicial Affairs, while students without state-issued permits risk arrest and criminal charges, said Tyrone Parham, assistant director of Penn State Police.
Penn State's university-wide SY12 policy prohibits students, faculty and visitors from wielding "instruments or implements, which are capable of inflicting serious bodily injury."
"It's basically prohibited on all university property except for authorized law enforcement officers," Parham said. "This does override any permit that is issued by the state of Pennsylvania."
Saying that "46 police officers can't be everywhere at once," Dave Wilson (sophomore-industrial engineering) joined in protest, believing revised policies on college campuses could prevent tragedies like the shooting on Virginia Tech's campus where a shooter killed 32 people and then himself.
"The funny thing is, state legislation says that you are allowed to have a weapon on school property for a lawful purpose, but doesn't specify what is a lawful purpose," Wilson said. "I definitely wouldn't want to be in a situation where I couldn't defend myself."
Not anticipating any policy changes, Parham said Penn State's dense population isn't conducive to guns, bows and arrows or any of the devices prohibited under SY12, adding that students like Wilson, a recreational shooter, can store weapons for "use in the surrounding community" in an Eisenhower parking deck facility.
"We think this would create more of a hazard if anyone could carry a firearm on campus," Parham said. "When you shoot the weapon, you have to be mindful of what's behind the person two miles down. What happens if you miss your target? Where does that round go?"
Parham cited a spring 2007 incident on the HUB lawn a few weeks after the events at Virginia Tech.
"A student was dancing around drunk, and students noticed him having a concealed weapon strapped to his waistband," Parham said. "Obviously, weapons and alcohol do not mix."
He added that state permits are fairly easy to obtain for those older than 21 and don't mandate training on proper weapon usage or concealment.
"We have a police force that is trained in using a firearm if needed," he said. "That's the basic bottom line."
Despite university protection, Wilson said his participation in the "Empty Holster Protest" aims to promote self-defense, a cause he said he intends to bring to Penn State administrators once he is of legal age to obtain a state permit.
"We aren't trying to jam our beliefs down people's throats," he said. "This is a peaceful way to show that we are unable to provide protection for ourselves."