A compromise between university leaders and legislators to create gun-free areas on campuses passed out of committee Tuesday but not without a parade of opposition from students and gun-rights advocacy groups
The 3-2 vote came after more than an hour of testimony against the bill by students who say they will feel unsafe if they are not allowed to carry guns and by citizens who say they are being stripped of their rights.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, would allow faculty at state universities to declare their offices a gun-free zone. A sign must be posted outside the office and a storage locker of some type offered to students who need to dispose of weapons before entering that office.
"It's based on personal space. If these folks don't feel comfortable with weapons, then they may request that to be posted," Bell said. "Other professors who want that right, then they don't post. These are very limited, very narrow, but they're based on the election of the individual who controls the property."
The law would also allow students to choose to live in a room in a residence hall only with another student who does not have a concealed weapons permit.
"I just feel like I'm an honest guy and I went through the background checks. It just seems like I'm being treated unfairly here for something that is a personal decision to protect myself," said University of Utah student Thomas McCrory, a concealed weapon's permit holder who said he was attacked on campus last year but unable to defend himself because of the U.'s gun ban.
The legislation comes as a compromise between legislators and University of Utah leaders, who lost a lengthy court battle this September when the Utah Supreme Court struck down the school's gun ban.
Although school leaders had hoped to get a full ban in place for areas such as sports arenas, classrooms, offices and dormitories, Higher Education Commissioner Rich Kendell said all state university leaders are now on board with the proposal.
"It's not a perfect solution; it's a compromise," he said.
The U. does still have some pending federal claims against the state to reinstate its gun ban, but school leaders have agreed to drop those if the compromise bill passes.
But Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Concealed Weapons Permit Review Board, said the compromise is actually just rewarding the U. by "giving them a piece of their discriminatory agenda." Aposhian, reading from a statement from the National Rifle Association, said the measure "is a solution in search of a problem."
"Concealed weapons permit holders have not been causing problems at Utah's fine institutions of higher education, and they are not about to start," he said.
Aposhian also raised concerns about students having to reveal their weapons in order to drop them in lockboxes outside of faculty offices and possible discrimination against students who have concealed weapons permits.
John Spangler, chairman of Utah Sports Shooting Council, also spoke against the measure, saying the bill has "unworkable provisions" and is unclear on whether violating the rules would be a misdemeanor or felony charge.