Legislative Roundup: Gun issue fails to be resolved

By and

After sparring with gun-rights activists for weeks over a bill that would have allowed students to openly carry firearms on campus, the U is back at square one.

Although administrators were able to convince legislators to amend the bill to require that guns remain concealed on college campuses, the measure died. Because the proposal, which was meant to clarify open carry rules, failed to come up for a vote during the Utah Legislative session, the issue is still open for debate.

Echoing the debate of recent months, the U and gun activists are arguing the law supports their position.

U administrators contend that state law already requires concealed weapons permit holders to keep their guns covered on campus. Gun activists say the opposite.

“Not a thing has changed,” said Clark Aposhian, a lobbyist for the NRA and the Utah Concealed Instructors Network. “(But) some would say that because the new bill didn’t pass, it’s an affirmation that (open carry is allowed).”

Student Body President Spencer Pearson said he is confident that the U will continue to enforce its policy, which bans permit holders from visibly displaying their firearms.

“It seems like a common sense thing to me,” he said.

Pearson and administrators lobbied against the original bill, saying the sight of firearms would frighten some students and make recruiting difficult.

Students and staff with concealed weapons permits have been allowed to carry guns on campus since 2006 when the Utah Supreme Court struck down the U’s former gun ban. State law already prohibits non-permit holders from bringing guns on campus.

Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, said he proposed House Bill 473 because the U and several cities had violated state law by banning open carry. A student said the U threatened to expel him last spring after he refused to cover up his gun. The bill would have clarified that open carry is legal in most places statewide, including university campuses.

However, HB 473 was amended to exempt colleges from the open carry measure. Legislators who supported the change said they were contacted by several concerned professors who said they would leave the U if open carry was allowed.

Oda said he discourages students from open carrying, but he objected to the amendment. He said there should not be an absolute ban on open carry.

What’s next?

Oda said he hopes Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff will now step in and clarify the state’s position on open carry.

“The law was very, very clear, actually, even though the university’s attorneys disagree,” he said. “We’ve already got the right to open carry.”

Legislators had asked Shurtleff to issue an opinion before the session, but Shurtleff said he thought the Legislature should address the issue.

If Shurtleff doesn’t take action, lawmakers could once again try to resolve the conflict.

Pearson said there’s a strong possibility that another bill will be proposed during the next legislative session.

John Morris, general counsel for the U, said he doubts the U will ask legislators to introduce any specific bill.

“We’re going to abide by whatever the law is,” he said.

Brent Tenney, president of the Second Amendment Students of Utah, said most students with permits wouldn’t open carry even if they could. He said there’s no reason to create a ban.

“If there isn’t a problem, why do we need to create more laws?” he said. “It’s a fairly minor dispute. I think that it would affect very few people.”

Pearson said he’s particularly concerned that allowing students to openly carry firearms would hurt efforts to recruit faculty and students.

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