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Campus debate on guns shifts to dorm concerns

Published September 16, 2004 12:41 am

Stressed students? Universities say weapons shouldn't be handy; others focus on students' rights
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The debate over Utah's concealed-gun laws shifted Wednesday to firearms in student dorms at the state's colleges and universities.

University of Utah and Utah State University officials told the Legislature's Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee that some students - lacking maturity and facing stressful situations - shouldn't have access to such weapons.

This is "not good for young people in concentrated areas and [with] some who are going through conflict," said Juan Franco, vice president for student services at Utah State University. USU students are required to sign a housing policy that bans certain items from their on-campus apartments - among them martial-arts equipment, explosives and guns, he said.

But gun-rights advocates said by making such rules, USU - like the University of Utah - is violating students' right to own guns. They cited a state law forbidding property owners from restricting tenants' rights to own and possess firearms.

During the 2004 Legislature and the passage of Senate Bill 48 - confirming lawmakers' sole authority to make state laws - Senate Majority Leader Mike Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, pledged to hold hearings about the pros and cons of the state's unrestrictive concealed-weapon laws, especially in students' dorms.

Critics of such laws said Wednesday's hearing was Waddoups' way of giving "lip service" to an issue that most Utahns opposed.

Waddoups' directive to university officials seems to support that view. He asked university officials to provide specific examples of gun-related incidents and injuries on the U. and USU campuses.

That request prompted a retort from Rep. Pat Jones, D-Salt Lake City.

She recommended that concealed-weapons supporters also provide examples that show how often a concealed gun is used in self-defense or prevents a criminal act.

Gun accidents are rare in college dorms, said Brian Judy of the National Rifle Association in Utah. He criticized university officials for linking guns with suicide among college students.

"It's more common that a student will throw himself out of a window," Judy said. "There's just a bias against firearms by people at the universities."

Also this week, the Legislative Management Committee - led by outgoing House Speaker Marty Stephens and Senate Majority President Al Mansell - agreed to step into the gun-ban lawsuit at the request of the Utah Supreme Court.

The committee unanimously authorized legislative attorneys to file a "friend of the court" brief on two provisions in the state constitution that are considered central to the gun issue.

sykes@sltrib.com