Gun issue still up in the air

The campus ban on guns will continue until the U’s “friendly lawsuit” is sorted out by the courts, the Board of Trustees said Monday morning.

After approving changes passed by the Academic Senate and introducing new basketball coach Ray Giacoletti, trustee and former U.S. Senator Jake Garn read a motion that was unanimously accepted by the board:

“That the University of Utah Board of Trustees direct the university administration to pursue a quick and definitive resolution of the constitutional claims relating to the university’s gun policies and to continue to enforce the university’s gun policies during this process.”

A longer statement was also read that said the board understands the position of the state Legislature, made clear in the recently-signed into-law Senate Bill 48, which forbids the U from banning guns on campus.

But due to remaining state and federal constitutional issues not yet resolved, the U will wait for courts to “sort the matter out” before changing policy.

According to Jim Macfarlane, chairperson of the Board of Trustees, if the U changed the policy now, its case in court would be dismissed.

“We’re not defying the Legislature. We’re keeping our policy in place,” Macfarlane said.

Garn said the intent of the motion is not to be adversarial with the Legislature.

“We feel this way, you feel this way, let’s let the courts make the decision,” he said.

The statement also stated that the board recognizes and respects the responsibility of the Legislature to pass laws it finds in the public interest and to direct the affairs of all state entities.

In response to accusations made during the legislative session that the U was striving for autonomy, the board’s statement clarifies that the trustees’ decision is not motivated by a misplaced sense of autonomy from state control but out of concern for safety.

The reason the trustees are hoping the courts will decide in their favor is an interpretation of the U’s First Amendment rights, which may trump the right to bear arms, Macfarlane said.

When asked if protecting safety by banning guns is worth the animosity from the Legislature and cost of legal fees, Macfarlane said that any animosity felt does not come from the board and reiterated the desire to preserve safety.

Regarding the sometimes negative feelings felt toward the U by legislatures, Macfarlane said, “We’ve come to the conclusion we couldn’t be damaged any more than we’ve been damaged.”

In response to the decision, Lynne Ward, deputy chief of staff for Gov. Olene Walker, said the governor’s office will wait for the decision of the courts before becoming involved.

Walker signed SB 48 because she believed in the principle that the Legislature makes policies for state institutions, Ward said.

“The governor’s office feels like the Legislature clarified gun use but will wait to see how the courts interpret the intent of law,” according to Ward.

Sen. Michael Waddoups, R West Jordan, sponsor of the bill to allow guns on campus, was not available for comment.

Senate Majority Whip John Valentine, R-Orem, said he recognizes that the issue is currently up to the courts.

“We’re saddened that the university has to spend funds to test what appears to be a constitutional statute,” he said.

There are other things higher education funds need to be spent on, he added.

Senate Minority Whip Ron Allen, D-Stansbury Park, said he voted against the bill to begin with and agrees with the university’s decision.

“The bill needs to be challenged. Guns don’t belong in schools or on campus,” he said.

Although he owns a gun himself, he said he doesn’t believe it’s responsible to take them to schools and commended the trustees’ courage.

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