U Gun Policy Under Legislative Scrutiny

By and

U officials are preparing to respond to state lawmakers’ questions and concerns involving the campus’ concealed weapons policy.

Legislators have called a hearing for Jan. 14 that may lead to a repeal of the U’s no gun policy.

The policy prohibiting all guns on campus came under fire when Attorney General Mark Shurtleff presented legislative leaders with his formal opinion about Utah gun laws in early December.

The opinion states that only the Legislature can create gun laws or give any entity the right to restrict firearms.

Lawmakers have not granted the U that right, so any campus policies violate state law, Shurtleff says.

Vice President for University Relations Fred Esplin expects the hearing to cover all of the state’s public universities.

“We are not the only school to have a policy like this, most of the other state institutions have similar policies,” Esplin said.

While administrators are sensitive to the concerns of lawmakers, Esplin said the U has no plans to repeal its policy at this time.

“Clearly, people are adults, but the purpose of coming to campus is to get an education, not to shoot a handgun,” Esplin said. “It’s hard to imagine a need to brandish a firearm in your physics class.”

While administrators say the policy protects students, faculty and staff, gun-rights activists say it places the campus community in harm’s way.

“There is no reason to have such a rule. Such a rule endangers the students and faculty on campus,” said Dr. Sarah Thompson, the executive director of Utah Gun Owners Alliance, a group that is lobbying state lawmakers to repeal the U’s policy.

Thompson said criminals are less likely to target areas where they know people carry concealed weapons.

“Damaging people’s ability to defend themselves increases the crime rate,” she said.

People can debate the merits of the policy, but only the Legislature can make gun laws, said Paul Murphy, spokesman for the attorney general.

Shurtleff has yet to meet with U administrators, but plans to soon. The U’s legal council is still in the process of reviewing the opinion and the policy.

Esplin said the U’s policy predates the concealed weapons law “by a long shot,” and until now the U has heard no complaints.

The Legislature has already met with a group of state agencies to request a repeal of gun policies. The same could happen to the U Jan. 14. If it does, Esplin said the campus would comply.

“We have no intention of doing anything that violates the law,” he said.

[email protected]