- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 14, 2002

Utah's attorney general has accused one of the state's largest universities of breaking the law by enforcing a gun ban on school grounds.
State Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has declared the university's policy illegal and argues that the state legislature not state agencies has the sole authority to regulate gun policy.
The University of Utah in Salt Lake City, however, has refused to lift its 25-year ban on firearms, including concealed weapons, arguing that the school's mission is to foster a safe learning environment. The case is going before a federal court judge for trial this fall.
"There is a fundamental inconsistency between creating an environment necessary to provide free and robust dialogue, and having people armed on campus," said John Morris, the university's general counsel. "People do get very involved emotionally in arguments, and that's good. But if you put guns in the mix, their very presence will completely deter the free exchange of ideas. And that is critical to the academic mission of this university."
The case is the first of its kind in the country, where almost all colleges and universities have in place some kind of firearm ban. The case raises the question of how far a university can go in setting its own gun policies, an issue that has not been addressed by a court.
"The first of its kind nationally, and this is an extraordinarily significant case not only because it deals with the well-being of students on college campuses, but broader issues of academic freedom that's protected under the Constitution," said Sheldon Steinbach, vice president and legal adviser of the Washington, D.C.-based American Council on Education.
Safety in the university's dorms and health care facilities would also be compromised, Mr. Steinbach said. "You're just one state away from Columbine," he said. "This case is just mind-boggling, bizarre."
However, Mr. Shurtleff said it's his job to enforce the law, which permits legal concealed weapons everywhere except prisons, mental institutions and airports.
"If anyone has a problem with state law, they should take it up with the state legislature," he said Friday. "But I just need people to follow the law."
Pro-gun groups have sided with Mr. Shurtleff, saying that disobeying the law is not a precedent a university should set. "The university is 100 percent wrong," said Sarah Thompson, executive director of the Utah Gun Owners Alliance, which has about 1,000 members. "The university has no legal or moral authority to do what it is doing."
Many states allow people with permits for concealed weapons to carry guns into stores, churches or other public places.
Utah, which has a strong pro-gun lobby, has about 42,000 concealed-weapons permit holders in a state of 2.1 million people. To get a concealed-weapons permit, an applicant must be 21, have no criminal record or history of mental illness and pass a gun safety course.
In the University of Utah case, Mr. Shurtleff has argued in court papers that the university's gun policy is illegal because it prohibits students and employees from carrying a gun on campus unless the university approves. University officials said yesterday that they make exceptions in cases involving crime victims.
In 1992 the Utah Court of Appeals ruled that colleges are obligated to create and enforce "reasonable regulations" to maintain discipline and order, and to promote an "environment consistent with the educational process." Federal law also prohibits guns on school campuses.
Utah's statutes follows federal law but exempts those who have a valid state permit to carry concealed weapons, which is the reason Mr. Shurtleff says the university overstepped its bounds when it implemented its ban. By law, the university is a state entity, so it doesn't have the right to enact rules regarding guns.
University officials filed a lawsuit against Mr. Shurtleff in March, asking a judge to validate the ban. The university also received support from at least a dozen professional education groups, including the education council and local churches that filed "friend of the court" briefs last week in the U.S. District Court for Utah's Central Division.
Seven of Utah's nine public colleges and universities, and the two private campuses including Brigham Young University, the state's largest university ban guns on campus.
State officials have not asked BYU, sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to do away with the ban.

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