USU Threat Sparks Gun Debate

Earlier this month, feminist speaker and gamer Anita Sarkeesian cancelled her event at USU when she received violent death threats. Sarkeesian had planned to go forward with the event, despite the threats, but changed her mind when she learned guns were permitted in the venue where the event would be held.

The threat particularly questioned safety because Utah allows individuals to have weapons on campus if the individual possesses a concealed weapons permit.

According to Utah Criminal Code, “A person may not possess any dangerous weapon, firearm, or short barreled shotgun … on or about school premises [unless] the person is authorized to possess a firearm [and] the item is present or to be used in connection with a lawful, approved activity and is in the possession or under the control of the person responsible for its possession.”

The code applies to public institutions of Utah and, as an extension, to Utah universities. Specific to the U, university spokesperson Maria O’Mara gave this statement on the U’s firearm policies: “If there are reports of a gun being carried on campus, the first priority of law enforcement is to protect campus safety, including ascertaining any potential threat to that safety. Like all institutions of higher education in Utah, our practice is to ask whether or not an individual has a concealed carry permit. If so, they are asked to conceal their weapon or leave campus.”

Because of concealed weapon laws, it is plausible to see a physical firearm present on campus. The Department of Public Safety recommends “in such conditions, you are encouraged to call the University Police, give a description of the individual, and location. You may remain anonymous. A police officer will be dispatched to locate and contact the person to confirm that they are lawfully carrying the weapon.”

The U follows the same policy as any public institution in Utah, meaning individuals who are in possession of a concealed weapons permit may have a weapon. Theoretically, even if the individuals are in an area where firearms are not permitted, they are still allowed to have it in their possession and on their person as long as it is concealed.

The debate of public access to firearms isn’t a new one. A recent Harvard study found that public mass shootings have almost tripled since 2011. The study stated, on average, there has been one mass shooting every 64 days over the past three years.

Incidents such as the shootings at Santa Monica College and Elizabeth City State University have put fuel on the fire of the gun control debate. After the incident at USU, a petition circulated around students and staff that accumulated approximately 200 signatures calling for a complete ban of firearms on campus.

Regarding the policies as they currently exist, Molly Briscoe, a junior in marketing at the U, said she found the situation unsettling.

“There’s been a lot of shootings on campuses, and I feel if you’re allowing people to have guns on the premise in any way, then it’s probably easier for violence to occur,” she said.

Chan Se Lee, a junior in biology, said it makes him feel “unsafe.”

“It literally means someone can walk around with guns in their pockets, and there’s no way anyone can know it,” Lee said. “[But] I want to believe our university knows how to keep us safe.”

Pablo Munoz, a senior in business administration, said the incident didn’t necessarily have to call for change.

“What happened is definitely something to take into account, but I don’t think it should be something that causes the U’s policy to change,” Munoz said. “It needs to be based on the events that happen at this university. If that dramatic of a change took place, it would bring up unrest among the people who do have that right and want to express it.”

Wynchester Whetten, a first-year graduate student pursuing an MBA and master’s in chemical engineering, holds a concealed weapons permit. Whetten said she believes the issue isn’t one-sided in regards to firearm policies.

“When you get a concealed permit, you undergo an extensive background test,” she said. “You have to get fingerprinted, you have to know the regulations for the area you’re in and you’re obligated to abide by the law.”

Specifically with what happened at USU, Whetten said the situation was a compilation of several components and not solely about individuals having access to weapons via concealed carry permits.

“I think it’s a real concern, and having extra law enforcement and a definite security check is more than feasible,” she said. “But when incidents like this happen, people with concealed carry permits aren’t your danger people. Someone who has a concealed carry has gone through the training. They have that diligence and knowledge.”

There have been no definitive calls for a policy change at the U. But with more incidents occurring on college campuses and the unique circumstances in which weapons are related to state and university policies in Utah, it’s a possibility for future debate.

“I don’t feel unsafe,” Briscoe said. “I‘d like to think the university knows what they’re doing, but it puts me a little less at ease knowing the policies now.”

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@cynthia_luu