In February 2015 the contentious House Bill 1206, which would have allowed those 21 years or older to carry a concealed weapon on South Dakota’s college and university campuses (but prohibited in campus housing), was defeated, largely attributed to the state’s higher education students’ organized, vigorous lobbying of legislators. Although hailed as a victory by the state’s Board of Regents, many disagreed with commentaries implying the student voice was given special credence. Discussions of the bill’s reappearance have continued.
A rural state, South Dakota prizes its hunting culture and has some of the nation’s least restrictive gun policies. There is neither an application process nor permits needed for purchasing rifles or shotguns within its borders, and firearm owners are not required to be licensed or register their weapons. Minimum age requirement for firearm purchase is 18, but minors may possess handguns with parental/guardian permission. Applications are required for handgun purchases, and the NRA reports SD holds the number one position nationwide for number of permits to carry concealed handguns.
South Dakota’s first school shooting occurred September 30 (two earlier shootings in 1961 and 2013 were clearly unintended and accidental) at Harrisburg High School; Harrisburg is an affluent community 10 miles south of Sioux Falls with a population of approximately 5,000. A sixteen-year-old student who had been removed from school the previous Friday appeared that morning, engaged in a heated discussion with the school’s principal, and then suddenly produced a handgun and shot the principal.
The school’s assistant principal and athletic director immediately tackled and disarmed the student, holding him until law enforcement arrived, which included several sheriffs, multiple police, and representatives of the FBI, ATF, and Homeland Security. The school and others in the vicinity went on lockdown with its approximately 630 students transported to Harrisburg’s middle school. The principal suffered a minor flesh wound with classes in session the following day, and at present the shooter has been charged as an adult for attempted murder in the first degree and commission of a felony while armed.
While the community and state remained stunned, it was also acknowledged that circumstances allowed an extremely positive outcome that is unlikely to be repeated. Predictably, politicians and others immediately began either condemning handguns or stating schools would be safer with them. While extremely unlikely the state will revise current gun laws, school safety measures will doubtless be reexamined.
However, the higher education community is again wondering if another version of the Concealed Carry bill will reappear, and how the state’s first school shooting will influence, whether positively or negatively, its next passage or failure.