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Legislation that could restrict guns on college campuses hadn't even been released to the public by late Monday, but already gun-rights advocates are lobbying to kill it.
An e-mail Gunowners of Utah (GOUtah) sent members calls on them to stop the "aging ex-hippies" at the University of Utah from restricting concealed weapons anywhere on campus.
"There's no reason why the University of Utah should be given any special perks with banning guns," said Charles Hardy, GOUtah's policy director. "There are no other state agencies that can ban guns without a legitimate, secure area."Â
The group's target is SB251, drafted as a compromise between pro-gun lawmakers and higher education officials. Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, the bill's sponsor, said it would allow faculty members to choose whether to allow guns in their offices, and it would regulate guns in dorms, requiring concealed-weapons permit holders to store their weapons in school-provided lockers.
The U., like other universities in the state, had a policy prohibiting guns on campus before a 2004 Utah law eliminated the restrictions. The U. sued over the law and eventually lost in the Utah Supreme Court last fall.
A federal lawsuit remains active, but U. President Michael Young last week said the U. will drop the lawsuit if Bell's bill passes.
Hardy, however, is concerned the U. will continue to try to chip away at gun rights through small bills. A few years ago, the Legislature, with the support of the gun-rights lobby, allowed universities to prohibit guns in student hearing rooms, which are equipped with metal detectors, but he sees SB251 as an attack on the Second Amendment.
"That law wasn't good enough and now they're back asking for more. They have no intention of being satisfied, and we want to stop the bill this year before they come back and ask for something even more offensive next year," he said.
Bell said he is "pretty confident" the bill will pass both houses, regardless of community opposition.
"When they see the bill, they'll realize the logic of it," he said Monday. "It puts very minimal restrictions on guns."
But for many U. students, the bill doesn't go far enough.
Marko Mijic hopes the bill passes, but, ideally, the pre-pharmacy sophomore wishes guns could be banned.
"It would be nice to have guns prohibited on the entire campus," he said. "But I think this bill will help ensure the safety of faculty and the campus as a whole."
Jonah Petit, a junior in mechanical engineering, agrees.
"It could be harmful, even fatal to have guns on campus," he said.
Others, though, such as Marilee Larsen, a freshman, said she isn't worried about licensed gun-owners on campus. "If they're licensed, then they know how to handle a gun, and the U. is public property," she said.
* SHEENA MCFARLAND can be contacted at email@example.com or 801-257-8619.