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      USC students carry empty holsters to protest gun policy

      COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH) - University of South Carolina students are walking around campus wearing empty gun holsters in protest this week.

      Those involved in the USC Empty Holster Protest 2012 say the gestures shows that they are defenseless on campus and violates their rights.

      Joshua Cohen is wearing an empty holster all week. The criminal justice major has a concealed weapons permit but school policy stops him from carrying on campus.

      "They think that we want the Wild West where everyone has a gun at the O.K. Corral," said Cohen. "That's not what we want. What we want is to arm people who can make a difference for themselves and protect."

      Cohen helped organize the week-long peaceful protest at USC which is part of a national push by the organization Students for Concealed Carry. Dozens of students have joined the effort in Columbia. More than 50 have strapped on their empty holsters since the silent protest started earlier this week. It ends Friday night.

      "The gun-free zone signs aren't something that's going to stop someone who's already carrying a weapon illegally and will commit a crime," said demonstrator Kyle McGregor.

      The group is not discounting the efforts of campus police or the Columbia police force, rather they are eager to have a form of self-defense if necessary.

      "While I believe the Columbia Police Department and the University of South Carolina Police Department are highly-trained and highly professional, they can't be everywhere at once," said demonstrator Cody Armstrong.

      The students involved argue people with concealed weapons permits have the training and know-how to carry safely in the eyes of the law.

      However, the potential of guns on campus isn't for everyone.

      "I would feel uncomfortable," said USC freshman Sierra Heyward. "Kind of scared, a little bit nervous."

      "I think if they have the permit and they've been OK'd by the state, the government, I think it's ok," offered USC freshman Garrett Stuart.

      Still, students have reservations about the possibility of seeing a classmate carrying a weapon on campus.

      "I can see that they want to be safe and keep others safe, but, at the same time there is that chance that something may happen, an accident," said USC freshman Emmonie Crumblin.

      Several state universities around the country allow students to carry concealed weapons.

      The protest comes at a time when there has been a spike in crime, mainly robberies, near campus in recent months.

      "T he University Police Department is continuing to work closely with the city of Columbia Police to identify suspects, help prevent future crimes, and educate the community," said university spokesman Wes Hickman in a statement released by the school.

      School officials urge students to call 911 or use one of the roughly 200 emergency call boxes on campus if they see signs of trouble. They also urge students to never take matters into their own hands.

      However, the students walking campus with empty holsters would like to have that option if they were ever the target of a crime, or there was ever a school shooting the likes of the fatal Virginia Tech rampage.

      "Until the school can each issue us our own personal police officer we need some other way to protect ourselves," said Cohen.