Bill would allow open carry of firearms

If a bill proposed by Utah lawmakers passes, U students with concealed weapons permits won’t have to cover up their guns when they go to class.

Current U policy requires weapons carriers to keep their guns concealed, a position administrators argue is backed up by state law.

House Bill 473 would amend the firearm code to ensure that permit holders are allowed to visibly carry firearms statewide, including the campuses of state universities and public schools. A committee of representatives in the Utah State Legislature unanimously passed the bill Monday. The measure will now move to the full House.

U administrators are opposing the bill because they say allowing students and others to visibly display their firearms on campus would intimidate students, especially in light of recent “horrific shootings” on college campuses.

“We’re concerned about the feeling that could create on campus,” said Kim Wirthlin, the U’s vice president for government relations. “We believe that having students…carry their weapons in the open is not good policy.”

Wirthlin said allowing open carry on campus could cause the U to lose some of its faculty members.

Gun-rights activists, including the Second Amendment Students of Utah, complain that the U’s policy prohibiting open carry violates state law.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff told committee members the bill would clarify that concealed weapons permit holders are not required to cover their guns. He mentioned that the U and several other state institutions have run into disputes about their interpretation of the law. Thomas McCrory, a senior business major, said the U threatened to expel him last spring if he didn’t cover up his hand gun.

“I think what this bill will do is clear up the confusion,” Shurtleff said.

Lawmakers asked Shurtleff to write an opinion clarifying open carry rules, but the attorney general said he thought it best that legislators clear up the dispute.

No one present at the meeting spoke out against the bill. U representatives did not attend the meeting.

Wirthlin said the bill has quickly moved through the Legislature. She had not heard about the measure prior to being contacted by the The Daily Utah Chronicle last week.

Gun activists say because current law does not specifically outlaw permit holders from visibly carrying firearms, the U cannot prohibit it.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, blasted the U last fall for prohibiting open carry.

“I don’t care where they stand on it…I’m tired of playing with them,” Oda told The Chronicle. “What (their interpretation) tells me is that they don’t know the English language.”

John Morris, general counsel for the U, has defended the U’s policy, saying that language about concealed weapons permits clearly indicates that they are intended to be concealed on school property.

“This exception allows a permit holder to carry a concealed weapon (on school grounds) only if it’s concealed,” Morris told The Chronicle last December. “The concealed weapons permit only permits you to carry a concealed weapon — it doesn’t permit you to do all sorts of other things. And it’s clear from other statutory language.”

State law generally allows lawful gun owners to openly carry firearms in public, except in places such as schools or churches. The issue is whether concealed permit carriers have an exception that would let them open carry on a college campus.

Students and staff with permits have been allowed to carry guns on campus since fall 2006 when the Utah State Supreme Court struck down the U’s gun ban.

Dee Rowland, chair of the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah, attended Monday’s meeting and said she is outraged by the bill, especially considering the impact it would have on college campuses.

“Why do we continue to facilitate the availability of handguns?” Rowland asked. “Is this the kind of society we want?”

[email protected]