Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Nick Moyes, chapter president of College Republicans at UVU, was detained Friday by officers for openly carrying a gun on campus, which he has a permit to carry.

OREM — Nick Moyes had just finished adjusting a banner in the Sorensen Student Center at Utah Valley University and was returning the ladder he used when a campus police officer approached and asked for his ID.

The problem? The Sig Sauer P226 9mm handgun hanging from his hip holster.

Someone had seen it and complained. Moyes was confused: He had openly carried his gun on campus for a year and a half — in plain view of police officers — and had told people it was legal to do so.

As another officer joined the argument, Moyes, president of the UVU College Republicans chapter, told them that Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff had even personally thanked him for "open-carrying" during a visit to campus.

Days later, as college officials, gun rights advocates and state legislators debate the interpretation of various state gun laws, Shurtleff declined to provide clear guidance.

"He says the law is ambiguous and he continues to encourage the Legislature to clarify it," said spokeswoman Renae Cowley. She added that Shurtleff said he does not recall ever meeting Moyes or thanking him.

Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, tried to clarify the law this year by explicitly allowing licensed gun owners to "openly carry a firearm" absent any otherwise threatening actions. But that language was eliminated from his measure, HB78, before it reached the desk of Gov. Gary Herbert, who has not yet signed it.

"Even though it is not specifically protected, Utah law does allow people with weapons permits to openly carry a gun," Sandstrom told the Deseret News.

"Ambiguity in the law really helps no one," said Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, the bill's co-sponsor. "If there is some ambiguity, we'd better address that."

Daw said it's clear that openly carrying an unloaded gun is legal. Another state statute prohibits carrying a gun on school premises, but it contains exceptions, including one for a holder of a concealed weapons permit.

Still, "nowhere does it say that just because you have a permit, somehow that's a license to open-carry (on a college campus)," said UVU spokesman Chris Taylor.

"UVU complies with state laws with regard to weapons on campus (and) we feel the law is pretty explicit," he said. "People need to remember we're talking about what's allowed or not allowed with a concealed weapons permit."

The Utah Supreme Court in 2006 struck down the University of Utah's policy banning guns, saying the U. could not make rules contrary to state law.

Moyes agreed to conceal his gun after officers said they could cite him for disorderly conduct or trespassing.

"You're also making a bad name for open carry … because you have people that called in and it's a concern to them and it alarms them, especially in this kind of a setting," one officer said, as captured on a video Moyes took with his phone and posted on YouTube. "Carry it concealed. Then it's a dead issue."

"I understand it's a Second Amendment right. … Have every gun you want," the officer went on. "But when you disrupt school, it's a different thing. … The school has the right to make sure everybody feels safe."

Moyes said he was later told that he would need written permission from campus police to openly carry a gun on campus and that such permission had never been granted.

"I'm not an activist," Moyes said. "I wasn't trying to be combative or confrontational. I have the greatest respect for law enforcement in our community."

Contributing: Josh Smith