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U. officers on leave after leaking gun policy

Published January 5, 2011 2:40 pm

Open-carry ban • The pair believe school is "circumventing" state law.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A pair of University of Utah public safety officers are on paid administrative leave after internal guidelines that would ban the open carrying of firearms were made public.

Gun rights activists say such a policy violates state law, and legislators are getting involved in the dispute.

Zachary Wellman, a security guard at University Hospital, said he and another campus police officer were put on leave last week after Wellman shared the guidelines with a friend, who took the U. protocols to gun advocacy groups and state lawmakers.

Wellman said he did it because he believed U. lawyers were going around the Legislature to rewrite the law.

"They're saying we don't want [visible guns] on campus, but state law is they have to accept it because they're a state university," Wellman told The Salt Lake Tribune. "It is a huge issue because they're circumventing the Utah law and the university president is now making the law, which they have no power to do."

In a memo sent to U. Police Chief Scott Folsom last April, President Michael Young wrote that "having weapons in plain sight on this campus creates a fearful and intimidating campus environment."

Young said that school shootings, including in 2007 at Virginia Tech — where 32 died — created safety concerns among students and faculty. Utah law doesn't allow anyone to carry a weapon openly on campus, he said, whether or not they have a concealed-weapons permit, and the law allows the university to deal with issues that interfere with the school's educational mission.

The guidelines sent to police officers directs them to arrest anyone openly carrying a firearm if they don't have a concealed-weapons permit.

If the individual has a permit, officers are to instruct the gun owner to conceal the weapon or leave campus. Individuals who refuse can be cited, while repeat offenders can be arrested.

The guidelines, revised in September, were distributed to campus police officers who were told the document "is not for public distribution."

Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, a gun-advocacy group, sees the issue differently than Young. He says a concealed-weapons permit allows individuals to conceal their weapons but doesn't require that they be hidden.

"It's not that we're out there advocating for people to openly carry their firearm," Aposhian said, "but it's legal, and we don't want someone taking away a right that we have because of the University of Utah's skewed perception … or pattern of being biased against guns and gun owners."

Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, who is a concealed-weapons instructor, called the U.'s actions "unconscionable" and said the two officers deserve whistle-blower protection.

"These officers have done nothing wrong. All they're doing is making public what the university is keeping secret from anybody who might have a weapon up there" and need to know the policies, he said. "That's completely illogical. … We ought to be putting the university administrators on leave [for] doing the kind of crap they're pulling."

U. spokesman Remi Barron said that the guidelines in question are protocols that officers use when responding to "potentially dangerous situations," and therefore aren't intended for public consumption and aren't subject to state open-records laws.

He said the protocols have been used successfully in instances on campus where someone felt threatened by an individual openly carrying a weapon.

"The university believes that this protocol and its overall policy on guns on campus follows state law," Barron said.

There is a long and contentious history involving guns on the U. campus. For years, the university banned guns campuswide. But Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff issued an opinion in 2001 that the school had no authority to implement such a ban, and three years later, the Legislature passed a law prohibiting schools from restricting the possession or use of firearms. In 2006, the Utah Supreme Court ruled that the university lacked the authority to ban guns.

Since then, the university has allowed concealed weapons permit-holders to carry guns on campus but resisted efforts to allow guns to be openly carried — including opposing a 2008 bill that would have allowed firearms to be carried in public sight.

Oda said that, since the school lost the court fight, administrators have tried to find ways around the ruling and they are "overstepping" their bounds.

"I'm going to be watching them like a hawk," he said. —

University of Utah gun policy

To view the policy, go to:

http://bit.ly/dNfbDi