The latest installment of the nation’s endless debate on gun control recently surfaced on the University of Utah campus. A graduate student instructing a class included a detailed weapons policy on their syllabus. In the syllabus, students were required to stand in a small “second amendment zone,” as the instructor wanted to discourage students from carrying a concealed weapon. The instructor called carrying a gun to school “absurd, antisocial and frightening behavior.”

The graduate student was quickly relieved of their teaching duties. Current Utah law allows individuals to carry a concealed weapon in both K-12 schools and on university campuses. In general, Utah has remarkably loose gun laws, even by American standards. Utah firearms dealers are not required to obtain a state license. There is no waiting period to purchase a firearm and no limit regarding how much can be purchased at a time. While there are some regulations on background checks, various loopholes remain — giving potentially dangerous individuals opportunities to purchase deadly weapons.

It should be no surprise that this recent controversy sparked polarizing and toxic debate. Many of the criticisms of this graduate student, even when technically accurate, intentionally miss the point. Conservative news outlets, the National Rifle Association and some Utah lawmakers were quick to condemn the student. However, these groups fail to address a far more important issue: pervasive gun violence continues to impact our state and country.

The concealed carry laws are justified by the oft-repeated refrain of gun lobbyists and conservative populations that more firearms will lead to a safer society. For years we have waited for this to come true. There are now more guns than there are people in the United States. Every day, 96 Americans are killed with guns. With alarming regularity, communities mourn mass shootings in schools, churches and workplaces. This destructive cycle will continue until we destroy the myth that an increased access to firearms will magically end gun violence.

The graduate student’s syllabus was meant to comment on this pressing issue, and I doubt they would have actually enforced it as classroom policy. Still, the student made significant mistakes. The policy was not legally justified while their statements lacked policy and nuance. The student’s comparison of a “second amendment zone” to free speech zones was outdated — as of 2017, all open spaces on the University of Utah campus are free speech zones.

However, this student’s willingness to question and confront Utah’s gun culture is sorely needed. Our response to gun violence has become a toxic routine — shock, mourning, occasional vows to change, and then, after the dust has barely settled, we return to an untenable status quo. The graduate student was willing to address Utah’s toxic gun culture directly, beyond the whiplash of the news cycle. Their methods were confrontational, but it is past time to be brutally honest about our cultural obsession with guns. An educational setting is a perfect opportunity to examine and challenge existing paradigms. Installing a “second amendment zone” was extreme and unnecessary, but so are Utah’s current concealed carry laws. Our legislators need to protect their constituents by enacting common-sense gun legislation. If they refuse to do their jobs, I suggest sending them to a 3×3 taped square on the Senate floor.

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Josh Petersen is the digital managing editor at The Chronicle. Previously, he was the assistant arts editor and a staff writer for the opinion desk. He has won multiple awards for his writing, including the national Mark of Excellence award for column writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is a senior studying English, psychology and political science.


  1. I’m going to plug a rebuttal real quick:

    As a scientist, the lack of supported data to support your claim is found wanting. You also used a very biased group’s research “everytown” which uses broad definitions to congregate non-violent or self-harmful gun uses like accidental discharges and suicides, and places it in a central category. Being critical to this op-ed but also being fair. A few pointers to support your claim if you choose to talk more about firearms; choose more statistics from both liberal and conservative think tanks(yes, they are bias due to how they “define” key words like violence) rather than just a liberal group. This allows for cross examination of data for you and your readers. This can further strengthened your argument, or alter it. If your argument is on an emotional base rather than a factual one, you might want to change it to align with the evidence or even make your argument a philosophical one.

    On a personal note, Utah’s gun laws are pretty average for the common American, not laxed. I’m from Kansas and our laws aren’t that different, check your state gun laws for clarity and if possible put them up as a supporting or null-hypothesis point.

  2. More guns DO lead to a safer society. Please tell me your research included the FBI’s annual crime reports? Because if you had, you would easily see that despite record sales of guns; violent crime has been decreasing for several years.

    You might want to stick to “arts and entertainment” writing if you can’t do basic research for an article.

  3. He is a junior in college. His ideas have no merit or place in the society of grown men. The proof is the “statistics” he cites.

  4. Yeah, my right to self defense is not dependent on your feelings. Your authoritarian personality is precisely why the Second Amendment exists, and WILL CONTINUE to exist. Forever.

  5. Mr. Petersen would do well to travel and live in other countries for a few years. He would then understand why some countries have lower crime rates and firearms ownership is not prevalent. He would also see places where heavy government is forced on people without recourse. Still other countries are known for oppressing the unarmed masses without fear of reprisal, Myanmar comes to mind.

    The world is a complicated and busy place. Try to see more sides to it before taking a position at odds with a third of Americans.

  6. Utah has the tenth lowest murder rate in the nation. The rate of murder with guns is also very low.

    Where Utah has a problem with deaths involving guns is suicides.

    So rather than the gun…Utah residents should fear themselves.

    Nice try with the article, though. I wouldn’t try to make this a career if I were you.

  7. Mr. Petersen,
    How would you feel if you had to pay the government for your “right” to speak freely.
    Just think about that for a moment.

  8. “Utah firearms dealers are not required to obtain a state license”

    That may be the case in UT, but a FFL (Federal Firearms License) is still needed to sell firearms as a business.

  9. The government solution: “give up your rights so we can make you pay money and jump through bureaucratic hoops to get them back”. Yknow Josh, just because YOU don’t want to partake in your civil right of self defense does not mean that NO ONE ELSE should have that right.
    Pick an issue – any issue; abortion, gun owner control, property rights, business law, internet censorship, whatever comes to mind… One side will usually say “we want the right to do (X)” while the opposing argument is “people should not have the right to do (X)”. Be very careful when you are tempted to use the phrase “there ought to be a law!”, it means you are advocating for the restriction of someone else’s right to do something… and it will be applied equally not just to everyone else but to you and your children as well. There will be some exceptions, but if you’re arguing that We the People need yet another restriction upon our rights, there is a pretty good chance that it is YOU who are in the wrong. Stop… and think it over carefully before you call for less freedom… lest you become the monster you think you are fighting against.

  10. This was outrageous conduct on the part of this TA, no matter which side of the issue he or she was on. “Weapons Policy” is not a relevant issue to the content of this course. And even if it were the instructor has no right to mock bully and demean those who take an opposing view. If he or she feels so strongly about gun control I suggest they address this issue with somebody who is not a captive audience and dependent on them for a grade. I challenge this graduate student to a debate on the issue at a place and time mutually convenient for the two of us!

  11. Josh Peterson,

    Utah has allowed concealed carry in classrooms for 20 years. Unlike some other states, where schools are so-called ‘gun-free-zones’ , in Utah, there have been no firearm related injuries to students in that period of time.

    One would assume that your desire to change the policy is to effect a change in outcome. Please explain what you find unsatisfactory with zero injured students.

  12. Given Utah violent crime rate is far lower than Chicago, Baltimore, and other locations where 2nd Amendment civil rights are far more restrictive, it seems like Utah’s laws make more sense than other locations. I’d suggest Josh take critical thinking and American civics classes before commenting again on things he doesn’t understand.

  13. Hi Josh, while I’m sure your views have been informed by no less than 90 percent liberal teachers throughout the course of your thus far meaningless existence, the reality is the only conversation we need to have is statistical analysis.

    For instance, when European nations have instituted strict control of private firearms ownership, their murder rates didn’t decline. Even Australia. They had a decrease in mass shootings, but they didn’t have many to begin with.

    In the meantime London is banning private knife ownership and memes are an offense worthy of prosecution.

    Read more, talk less.

  14. While I agree that the graduate student was so far out of line to be ridiculous. It bears questioning the waste of resource to try and educate someone who clearly cannot be.

    Josh, go outside of the safe bubble you live in here in Utah. Question ideas. Learn to use logic and think for yourself. Or, stick to Arts and Entertainment.

    Please provide a logic based argument on any of your thoughts on gun control. Numbers with the data and methodology used to back them up. The devil is in the details. Then, we can begin. To have an entertaining debate. But leave rhetoric and emotional appeals at the door. Arguments that can be backed up with solid facts only need apply.

  15. Heh. Someone notices that gun violence is a thing. What to do? Why, take away conceal carry of course.
    I mean, why be bothered to learn that permit holders commit violent crime (or any crime in general) at lower rates than non-permit holders. Obviously, if we disarm these law-abiding people, the bad guys will stop killing!

    Got logic class?


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