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Virginia Tech shootings renew campus gun debate in Utah

Published April 16, 2007 12:18 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Posted: 12:19 PM- Campus shootings today at Virginia Tech that left at least 22 dead and 21 injured have resonated with Utahns - especially those who engage in ongoing discussions over gun rights at state colleges and universities.

University of Utah President Michael Young, who unsuccessfully fought to prohibit guns at the U., says people should not "politicize these kinds of tragic events" in order to argue for both deeply expanded gun control nationwide and the need for more concealed weapons permit holders on campuses.

"Arming everybody is not the answer and disarming everybody isn't entirely possible, so you have to look for other solutions," he said.

Concealed weapon permit-holders are allowed to carry arms on college campuses in Utah, although a law passed this year by the Legislature enables students who live on campus to opt not to share dorm rooms with peers who have gun permits, Young said.

Utah law prohibits anyone without a permit from bringing guns on college campuses.

The answer to preventing gun violence may be in identifying people who have "slipped the moorings" as the Virginia Tech shooter and Trolley Square shooter Sulejman Talovich appeared to do, he said.

"We need to be looking for early warning signals and have public safety officers who are capable of responding quickly."

Clark Aposhian, the chairman of the Utah Self-Defense Instructor's Network who lived in Virginia for a short time, says Virginia law doesn't allow guns on campus even with permits.

He said no one will ever know what would have happened had concealed weapons permit holders been on campus, but he advocates for their rights to be on campuses.

"In these multiple victim shootings, when you deny the ability of lawful self-defense, there's no return fire until the police show up, and that's when people die," he said.

That's one of the reasons Molly Metcalf, a U. senior studying political science, feels safer with concealed weapon holders on campus.

"Obviously, the university itself can't protect us from shooting rampages . . . but when you allow those law-abiding citizens with permits to carry guns, there are people up there who can protect me in case of those emergencies," she said.

Capt. Lynn Mitchell of the University of Utah Police Department said he and his officers are there to respond to emergencies.

The department is not doing anything differently in light of the Virginia Tech shootings because "there's nothing to do that we haven't already done."

"We've been working and practicing rapid-response techniques, and we'll critique the Virginia Tech police response just as we did with Columbine," he said.

He added that new rapid-response techniques led to the quick takedown of Talovic at Trolley Square in February.

"There are always those kinds of lessons we're looking for" to lower the death toll in shooting rampages, he said.

Young added he feels "very blessed" this incident didn't happen on the U. campus.

"This is extraordinarily tragic, and our hearts go out to everyone affected by this," he said.

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You can reach Sheena McFarland

at smcfarland@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">smcfarland@sltrib.com or 801-257-8619.