DENVER | It was a rough week for gun rights in Colorado.
First, Colorado State University voted to ban concealed firearms on campus.
Then the University of Colorado went a few steps further and cracked down on another nefarious threat: Nerf guns.
Plans for a student-led game of humans vs. zombies took a hit after campus security officials discovered that players intended to use the popular orange-and-green toy weaponry. Simulated guns, even those that shoot spongy Nerf balls, are banned at the University of Colorado.
The game, a national craze on college campuses, involves “zombie” students attempting to eliminate “human” students by pelting them with Nerf balls or socks. Once a “human” has been tagged, he becomes a zombie and must wear a bandana around his head.
Humans can stun zombies for 15 minutes by tagging them with a Nerf ball or sock. Zombies must hit at least one human every 48 hours or “starve.” The game ends when all the humans have been turned into zombies or all the zombies have starved, which can take days.
CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard said students cooperated fully, replacing the Nerf guns with balled-up socks and even taking it upon themselves to hang fliers in dormitories warning players to leave their Nerfs at home. The game started Dec. 1 and ended a couple of days later.
Still, it didn’t take long for cries of “liberal killjoys” to ring out across the Internet. The contrast was especially stark given the headlines that week at Colorado State University, thought to be the last college outside Utah that allowed students to carry concealed weapons on campus with a permit.
The CSU Board of Governors voted unanimously Dec. 4 to ban concealed weapons over the objections of students. Presidents of the Colorado State system have until February to submit a weapons plan that complies with the new policy.
At CU, the ban on Nerf guns isn’t new. University officials pointed out that the Board of Regents banned simulated weapons from campus years ago, rather than just in time to suck the fun out of last week’s game.
“No guns of any kind, real or toy, from air rifles to paintball guns to Nerf guns, are allowed on campus under the laws of the regents,” said a statement issued by Joe E. Roy, chief of police at the University of Colorado Police Department. “We are simply enforcing a longstanding policy, not inventing a new category of enforcement.”
The debate over Nerf guns isn’t limited to Boulder. Since Humans vs. Zombies first began at Goucher College in Towson, Md., in 2005, colleges have wrestled with whether to allow students to pack Nerf heat. Opposition intensified after the deadly 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech.
Chief Roy noted that Nerf guns can look real to passers-by at a distance. Two years ago, Alfred University in upstate New York went on a two-hour lockdown after a faculty member reported a student carrying a weapon that turned out to be a Nerf gun.
That’s even more likely now that some Nerf heat-packers are painting their plastic weapons to look like the real thing. Mr. Hilliard pointed to a Web site that advocates painting Nerf guns black in order to achieve that authentic look.
“We love Nerf guns as much as the next adult adolescent male. But there comes a day in all of our lives when we realize that you can’t scare the hell out of anyone with a bright orange and pink pistol shooting foam darts,” says the Gizmodo Web site under the heading “Realistic Nerf Weaponry Combines Laser Sights with the Color of Death.”
At Bowling Green State University in Ohio, administrators banned the use of Nerf guns for a semester, but then met with student organizers and drew up a list of guidelines, such as keeping the game outside of school buildings. Students also agreed to refer to the weapons as Nerf “blasters,” not guns.
The next semester, the Nerf ban was lifted, said Landon King, a junior and past president of the BG Undead, which organizes the games.
“We haven’t had any issues, other than people coming up and asking, ‘What’s that?’ ” said Mr. King, who added that the group always coordinates its games with campus police. “My only advice for the University of Colorado would be to work with the university, listen to their concerns, and meet them halfway.”
In the meantime, Colorado zombies were content to adhere to the no-Nerf policy, especially after learning that they could be charged with violations of the student-conduct policy or even arrested on charges of unlawful conduct.
“We told them that the violation of the weapons policy is a serious thing,” said Mr. Hilliard. “If a third party happened upon this and called 911, we’d have to respond as if it were a real incident.”
That was enough to convince students like junior Trevor Doner.
“It’s not worth it,” Mr. Doner told the Colorado Daily. “I’m just going to shed my dignity and bring a balled-up sock to chemistry class.”