Campus gun rules debated

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Brent Tenney always covers up his gun when he heads to class.

The senior information systems major said that as a concealed weapons permit holder, he likes having the right to keep his firearm hidden. And he said students who openly display their guns on campus would surely be ostracized by peers.

“I personally would not open carry,” said Tenney, president of the Second Amendment Students of Utah.

Although Tenney doesn’t see a need to open carry, he thinks other students should have the right to.

His group is supporting a bill at the Utah State Legislature that would clarify that permit carriers can visibly carry firearms in most places statewide, including public university campuses. The bill was approved by the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee last week and must now be approved by the full House.

The measure, House Bill 473, would potentially resolve a dispute over the U’s policy prohibiting open carry on campus.

The U has allowed students and faculty with permits to carry concealed firearms on campus since 2006 when the Utah State Supreme Court ruled that the U’s former campus gun ban violated state law. State law prohibits non-permit holders from bringing firearms on campus.

Gun rights activists argue that state law already allows permit holders to open carry on campus. However, U administrators argue the law states the opposite and insist that the sight of firearms would intimidate students and faculty members. Current campus policy requires that permit holders keep their guns hidden.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, said he too thinks it best that students with permits conceal their weapons.

“We’re encouraging students to keep (their guns) concealed…I haven’t said anything, but I will (if the bill passes),” Oda said. “I think if we tell students please don’t (open carry) — they’ll abide by it.”

Oda said he plans to encourage students to cover up their guns so they don’t frighten their classmates, which administrators fear would happen.

“If nothing else, it humors the U,” Oda said.

Despite encouraging students to conceal their guns, Oda said he is proposing the bill because the law regarding open carry needs to be clarified. Disputes with several cities and municipalities also prompted the bill, he said.

Kim Wirthlin, the U’s vice president for government relations, said the U is opposing the HB 473 because allowing the open display of firearms would disrupt open discourse and debate, especially in light of recent school shootings. She said the bill could also make it difficult to recruit and retain faculty members who feel “uncomfortable teaching in an environment where guns are visible.”

Some students said they would be intimidated if classmates were allowed to show their firearms.

“It would freak me out to see the kid in class next to me with a gun,” said Brian Patterson, a senior fine arts major. “And I know plenty of professors who are freaked out about the gun thing.”

Patterson isn’t comfortable with having concealed weapons on campus either, but he said the issue doesn’t come to mind as much when guns are kept out of sight.

“Guns make me nervous,” he said. “The purpose of a gun is to kill.”

Tenney said recent campus shootings have illustrated why students should be allowed to carry weapons.

“Since universities haven’t been able to protect their students, they should be able to defend themselves,” he said. “I think it evens the odds for students who are just victims.”

Oda said shooters tend to be mental patients who have gone off some sort of medication. He blames the mass media for creating the debate about guns.

“They basically make these guys heroes and blame it on the gun,” he said.

Tenney said he fears that if the U is allowed to prohibit open carry, administrators will punish permit holders who accidentally expose their guns.

Barb Remsburg, an administrator in the residence halls, said the U doesn’t punish permit holders for mistakenly exposing a firearm.

“Inadvertently having your concealed weapon be seen is not an infraction,” she said. “(But) if someone refused to cover up their weapon, we would call the police.”

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