Push for gun ban faces tough road

University of Utah President Michael K. Young advocates restoring the campus gun ban, but he is likely to face tough opposition from Utah legislators.

Young is currently lobbying capitol leadership to bring back some form of the now-suspended policy prohibiting U students, staff and faculty from carrying guns on campus.

But some state legislators aren’t welcoming Young with open arms.

The relationship between the U administration and the Republican-dominated Utah State Legislature has been tense on the gun issue.

Some Utah lawmakers said they felt the U had “snubbed” its responsibility when the school opted to take the gun issue to court in 2002 rather than have the Legislature consider the constitutional issues.

“What they tried to do was a big slap in the face for everybody,” said Rep. Curt Oda, D-Clearfield.

Now, after the Utah Supreme Court struck down the gun ban earlier this year, the U has chosen to temporarily suspend the policy and withhold action on a federal suit in hopes of resolving the issue with the Legislature. The move allowed concealed weapons permit owners to bring their guns on campus.

Although President Young said “litigation is not (his) first choice to solve problems,” he didn’t say whether he thought former University of Utah President Bernard Machen’s decision to take the issue to the courts before the Legislature was a misstep. Young was appointed President in August 2004, nearly three years after the gun debate began.

Mark Shurtleff, Utah attorney general, said the U is making the right move in going to the Legislature, but he doesn’t think Young will be able to secure a campus-wide ban.

“I don’t think it’s possible that (legislators) would make the entire campus a gun-free zone, but they may be willing to do things like dormitories,” Shurtleff said.

Other legislators, such as Senator Elect Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, see the U’s willingness to negotiate as a fresh start.

Romero said the upcoming legislative session is a good time to readdress the issue because “new players” are involved on both the side of the U and the Legislature.

“The issue needs to be given a new opportunity to be addressed,” Romero said.

While Shurtleff said he thought a campus-wide ban would not receive support, he said President Young has mentioned restricting the ban to the Residence Halls, a proposition he said is more likely to gain traction.

“(Young) said he might be willing to let us prohibit guns in the dorms as maybe a compromise–I said I think that’s a very good place to start,” Shurtleff said.

Though freshman Tyler Anderson, who lives in Residence Halls, hasn’t heard of any students packing guns in his hall, he said he finds the thought of living with students who carry guns to be a concern.

“Once you combine firearms and drunken teenagers–it’s a very inflammatory situation,” said Anderson, a political science and philosophy major.

Young said the dorms are an area of “high priority,” but that he plans to keep the discussion about the gun policy open for now.

“(The dorms are) very close living spaces where you have one to three roommates in a room?you want to ensure that accidents don’t happen,” he said.

Young said may be considering asking legislators to expand the prior gun policy.

He said the prior gun policy “was too narrow” because it only prevented students and U personnel from bringing guns to campus.

“If we’re going to make sure that some places are free of concealed weapons,” Young said, “they ought to be free of weapons brought by people who are not affiliated with the university.”