CINCINNATI -- Some University of Cincinnati students say they don't like having an activist carrying guns in the open on campus – even though it's perfectly legal.
"I don't feel safe as a student seeing that on campus," Grace Cunningham, a third-year student, told WCPO on Thursday.
"My concern is that he's trying to intimidate student protesters," said Cole Weirich, in his first year.
"It's a little jarring to see somebody with any type of weapon," said Nicole Price, in her fifth year.
"There's something inherently dangerous when you see a gun," said McKenna Corey, a third-year student. "I understand he's raising awareness of his Second Amendment rights, but we also have a right to our education and to feel safe getting our education."
A walking, "interactive billboard" is what Jeffry Smith says he hopes to be for open carry rights on the UC campus.
Smith has been spotted around campus this week toting two sidearms, a larger rifle and ammunition at times. Three UC employees (who wished to remain anonymous) contacted WCPO to say Smith's presence made them feel uncomfortable.
According to Smith's Facebook page, he spent about 10 hours Wednesday advocating for open carry. He spent part of that time outside Tangeman University Center with members of the campus group "Young Americans for Liberty," gathering signatures on a petition to more formally involve students in campus carry rights decisions. His Facebook posts also said he attended a Student Senate meeting from 6 to 9 p.m.
UC spokesperson Michelle Ralston said Smith is not breaking any laws. That's because Ohio's gun laws got revised in December 2016 when Gov. John Kasich signed a bill allowing concealed carry in daycare centers and on college campuses, though not inside campus buildings.
The law goes into effect in March, meaning that Ohio's college campuses will no longer be automatically off limits to concealed weapons, but that trustees at each institution may choose to allow them.
UC Director of Public Safety James Whalen promised to monitor Smith's presence on campus and reassured the university community's safety in a statement Wednesday:
"I want to share with you that individuals have been seen on UC’s Uptown campus exercising their constitutional right to openly carry a firearm (bear arms). In the state of Ohio, open carry of a firearm is legally permitted in public spaces, pursuant to the United States and Ohio Constitutions. Ohio courts have consistently ruled that state universities are public spaces; however, open carry is not permitted inside university buildings including classrooms. As you walk outside between buildings on the Uptown campus you may see these individuals. Please be assured that UC Police have been, and will continue to, be in close proximity to monitor the individuals, answer questions and ensure a safe environment for students, faculty and staff and visitors.
I would like to assure you that the safety of our students, faculty, staff and visitors is our highest priority and we will continue to monitor this activity."
Smith is the same activist who attempted to organize an open carry demonstration during the 2016 Cincinnati Pride Parade, days after the massacre of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Smith has been involved in similar demonstrations at the St. Louis Zoo and previously on the UC campus.
We didn't see Smith on campus Thursday. We reached out to him for comment, but he told us he didn't want to go on air.