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Utah's colleges and universities are trying a new strategy in the debate over guns on campus: They are meeting with the Legislature's staunchest gun rights advocates in an attempt to reach a compromise.
Although the Utah Supreme Court last fall ruled the University of Utah cannot ban concealed weapons on campus, U. President Michael Young and Senate President John Valentine have formed an informal work group of lawmakers and higher education officials to consider a bill that may allow schools to bar guns from campus dorms, sporting events and other "communal" areas.
Individual institutions simply want what they had until 2004 - the ability to make their own policies concerning guns, Dave Buhler, Utah System of Higher Education associate commissioner, half-jokingly told the group Tuesday. Most universities had policies banning guns before a 2004 law allowed concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns on campuses and in other previously protected areas. The U. sued and lost in the Supreme Court last fall, but still may pursue federal remedies.
Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield, quickly set Buhler straight, saying lawmakers have no intention of reversing the right they won in court.
But that didn't kill the conversation.
Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, said he is at least willing to listen.
"Now that the debate on who has control is over, we should have a discussion on if we should create a nuanced policy for universities," he said.
The U. would like to have the ability to ban guns in five areas: dorms, classrooms, faculty offices, athletic venues and university hospitals, said Kim Wirthlin, U. vice president for government relations.
Yet other members of the work group aren't certain such a ban would ensure a safe campus environment.
"If I send my daughter to the U. and you take away her right to defend herself, what guarantee of safety can you give me?" asked Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, a West Valley City police officer.
Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, echoed his sentiments.
"If you take away people's right to protect themselves, then you have to assume the liability of protection," Madsen said.
Gun rights supporters who are not part of the work group don't believe lawmakers should compromise.
"[The U.] lost at the Supreme Court level and they don't have the guts to take it to the federal court level," said Clark Aposhian, chairman of Utah's Department of Public Safety Concealed Carry Review Board. "I'm not willing to give them an inch when there is no problem. Until they show us a problem [with legally concealed weapons], we're not going to give these rights away."
But Valentine said gun rights supporters in the Legislature understand the need for some regulations in communal areas.
"Even the Second Amendment advocates are concerned with the issues in dorms and other communal areas, including safe storage of weapons," he said.
"Now that the debate on who has control is over, we should have a discussion on if we should create a nuanced policy for universities."
SEN. GREG BELL
R-Fruit Heights, on gun-control issues on school campuses
* The issue: Whether there's a way to prohibit guns on Utah college campuses while still complying with the state's concealed weapons law.
* What's new: University of Utah President Michael Young and Senate President John Valentine on Tuesday convened an informal working group to discuss potential legislative solutions.
* What's next: A follow-up meeting has not yet been scheduled.
Focus group on guns
Members of the working group include:
* Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville
* Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi
* Sen. Peter Knudsen, R-Brigham City
* Sen. Gregory Bell, R-Fruit Heights
* Sen. Ed Mayne, D-Salt Lake City
* Rep. Fred Hunsaker, R-Logan
* Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield
* Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman
* Dave Buhler, associate commissioner of public affairs for the Utah Board of Regents
* Kim Wirthlin, University of Utah vice president for government relations
* Ann Milner, president of Weber State University