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Replica gun, real problem

As Bryan Watson leaned out of his fourth-floor Cypress D window firing a Airsoft Beretta 92FS replica BB gun at a wasp nest, he had no idea police officers would be standing in his room within the hour. He certainly never thought that by Tuesday night, Residence Services would force him to leave his apartment.

University Police referred Watson, a pre-engineering major, to Student Services, which will decide today whether to expel Watson from University housing. Possession of any weapon on campus, even BB guns, violates University policy.

According to Assistant Chief of Police, J.D. Withrow, UP’s main concern is not the harm these guns can inflict upon other students, although they can cause minor injuries. Rather, the fear lies in what could happen if a student brandished the weapon in front of an officer.

“It concerns us that students have these replicas or toys because they just look so real,” Withrow said. “If you put that in a scenario where, maybe it’s dusk or night hours and an officer comes into a situation like that – bad things. The end of the story doesn’t come out nice.”

When it occurred Oct. 9, Watson’s case represented the second gun-related incident on campus of the day and the third occurrence in a six-day period. The incident also occurred a week to the day after a gunman killed five schoolgirls in an Amish schoolhouse, the fifth such school shooting to garner national headlines in the past two months.

The heightened national awareness raised by these events could explain the rash of gun-related reports to UP, Withrow said. It could also just be an increased presence of these instruments exists on campus.

“It’s really tough to gauge that one,” Withrow said. “But it could very well be that the public tolerance, even for toys or Airsoft pistols, is just not there anymore. They understand that these things could lead to dire consequences.”

According to Withrow, UP received a call concerning a student firing a BB gun around 3:10 p.m. When officers arrived, they found Watson still firing the gun.

Withrow said Watson did not point the gun at anyone and was cooperative, freely surrendering the replica to police. Watson was not charged.

Director of Residence Services Tom Kane was unable to comment on the pending case, but he did say USF has policies in place against the possession of weapons on campus for a reason.

“Our No. 1 priority is the safety of students,” he said.

Watson was asked to leave at approximately 10 p.m. on Tuesday by Coordinator of University Housing Mignon Chinn.

“I wasn’t pissed off,” Watson said. “I knew I did something stupid.”

Watson’s three roommates said they never felt threatened by the gun and don’t understand why he has been kicked out of their apartment. They have started a petition to keep their roommate from losing his housing privilege.

“He never really took (the gun) out,” said one of Watson’s roommates, Bobby Sanchez. “He never threatened anyone.”