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University and state in showdown over gun ban: Utah's state attorney general says school's policy violates constitution. (Update).

The argument may be clear, even if the logic isn't. State Attorney General Mark Shurtleff says the University of Utah is breaking the law--by not allowing firearms on campus. At a time when metal detector installations are on the rise in public buildings and high schools, the university has had to go to court against the state to uphold its long-standing gun ban. Shurtleff claims the ban is unconstitutional, because only the legislature has the power to authorize such a ban. "To me, their policy actually endangers their students and faculty more than it protects them," Shurtleff told reporters.

The school, on the other hand, points to an exception in the state's Firearms Act that says a person "may not possess any dangerous weapon, firearm, or sawed-off shotgun on or about school, premises."

In mid-March, the university filed a request for a declaratory judgment in U.S. district court, asking a federal judge to support the school's 25-year-old rule. "We see this as a friendly lawsuit with the attorney general's office," says Coralie Alder, director of Public Relations for the university. "There is a difference of opinion about what state law means and what our policy says, and we're hoping to get that resolved in court."

Earlier this year, Utah Sen. Michael. Waddoups, (R-Taylorsville) introduced a bill that would have denied the university up to half its state funding if it didn't change the policy. That bill was narrowly defeated, but both sides await the judge's ruling, which may not come until late summer or early fall, Alder told University Business.

Whether the policy endangers students, as the attorney general claims, is also debatable. Since the policy was enacted, there have been fewer than 30 incidents involving firearms reported on campus. "In most of those cases, there was a crime committed and a gun was found in a glove compartment or nearby," says Alder. "Few of the incidents actually involved a victim being threatened by a gun." Moreover, the university's policy is not unique, says Alder. "We are finding this is the norm. We contacted many universities regarding their own gun laws and, without exception, those responding have similar policies." Other Utah institutions, such as Brigham Young University, have stricter policies, she says. "This is not an issue of the right to bear arms," says Alder. "We just don't feel there is a place for it in classes or on campus."
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Author:Goral, Tim
Publication:University Business
Date:May 1, 2002
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