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Legislature passes diluted bill on concealed guns at campuses

Published: Friday, March 2 2007 12:33 a.m. MST

Starting with ambitions of banning guns in university sports arenas and classrooms, university leaders in Utah settled this week on a much-diluted version of a law to control concealed weapons on campus.

The compromise legislation is so far removed from the gun ban formerly in place at the University of Utah that some gun rights advocacy groups are saying they don't even mind the new law because it really doesn't do much.

The bill, passed Wednesday in the late hours of the 2007 Legislature, allows students living in university and college dormitories to request to live with someone who does not have a concealed weapon's permit. Permit holders are under no obligation to disclose their carrying status.

"We don't feel that there is any real effect on permit holders," said Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Concealed Weapons Permit Review Board. "We feel that the dorm situation was done so that parents sending their child to live at the university dorms could have some solace in the fact that they could request not to live with someone that has a concealed firearm."

The reach of the new law may be limited with a minority of Utah students living in dormitories who are even old enough to have a concealed weapon's permit. At the University of Utah, only 20 percent of 2,163 residents in dormitories are older than 21, including those living in married and family housing.

But Kim Wirthlin, U. vice president for government relations, said the compromise is still good enough for now for U. leaders, who have agreed to drop outstanding federal claims filed to keep the campus-wide gun ban.

That gun ban was struck down by the Utah Supreme Court in September in a ruling that found the school had no authority to make laws contrary to state statute.

"We would have liked to have had much more," said Wirthlin, who added there have not been discussions yet about whether higher education leaders will come back next year with another proposal. "But to protect the safety of our students was a paramount concern."

Besides, Wirthlin adds, without settling on the watered down version, the university would likely not have had anything. When all of the votes were counted, Wirthlin said university leaders realized they simply didn't have the numbers they needed to pass the original legislation.

That measure would have allowed faculty to declare their offices as gun-free zones, requiring students carrying firearms to drop those weapons in storage lockers before entering the office. But in the last night of the legislative session, Wirthlin said informal tallies showed the measure had only 25 confirmed yes votes as opposed to 39 confirmed nays.

The faculty office provision received heavy opposition from gun-rights advocacy groups including GunOwners of Utah and the Utah Shooting Sports Council.

"They are a very strong lobby. They work the House body very well. As we counted the votes for the bill, it became clear that we did not have them," she said.

Aposhian, who worked throughout the session to nix the office provision, said it was impractical, and even dangerous, to require students to take their weapons out on campus to store them outside faculty offices.

"They (the provisions) were unneeded and were realistically unworkable and they would not have protected the very people they were designed to protect," he said.


E-mail: estewart@desnews.com

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