Supreme Court Says University of Utah Can't Ban Guns

Supreme Court Says University of Utah Can't Ban Guns

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Richard Piatt ReportingThe Utah Supreme Court says the University of Utah cannot ban guns on its campus. That ruling came today, but the U says it will keep doing it anyway, because it has a federal court case pending.

The University of Utah has its crime problems, but it is generally seen as a safe campus. According to the University's President, that's partially because it bans firearms from campus, even those from people with a Utah concealed weapon permit.

Michael Young, President, University of Utah: "We certainly appreciate that, but also have a fundamental obligation to keep our students safe."

But the U's 'safety' argument flies in the face of state law, and that has sparked a series of legal struggles between the U and the Legislature. The State Supreme Court ruling confirms what lawmakers and the Attorney General have always said, that State law is state law.

Mark Shurtleff, Utah Attorney General: "Even though a lot of people think this case has been about guns, it's really been about the rule of law and who sets the law and who has to obey the law."

Gun owners' second amendment rights are fiercely protected in Utah. Carry-concealed permits are relatively easy to get if you don't have a criminal record; and there have been very few problems with that group of gun owners. Many people have them for protection only.

Clark Aposhian, Firearms Instructor: "I don't think this was necessarily a win for gun owners. But if it had gone the other way, I think it could have been a major loss for self defense in the state of Utah."

U of U President Michael Young says the gun ban will continue, pending further review and a federal case that is unresolved.

Pres. Michael Young: "Certainly as we review this, this policy will remain in place."

That may further agitate Legislators, who think the U should comply with state law.

Sen. Peter Knudsen, Senate Majority Leader: "We felt very strongly that universities are not immune from state law."

What the Supreme Court's ruling also means is that the emotional debate over where guns are legally allowed will continue--with no clear consequences for either the U or for those who violate its policy.

Student reaction to this case seems to be split. You can ask ten students what they think, and there's a good chance it'll come out five in favor of the decision, and five against it.

John Jex is a student at the U, but he's also a volunteer watch guard who makes sure bad stuff doesn't happen outside some university apartments.

John Jex/ Junior, University of Utah: "Vandalism on the buildings, so if there's any graffiti, broken windows, we watch out for that."

He's never come across that, but he knows it's possible. Even still, he's not worried at all that the Utah Supreme Court ruled students at the U can carry guns with a concealed permit.

John Jex: "Anybody who would be carrying a gun who would be a threat to me probably wouldn't be carrying it legally."

But while he feels safe, other students aren't so sure guns on campus is a good idea.

Samuel Passi/ Freshman, University of Utah: "I just don't see the purpose of why they need them on campus and in the classrooms."

No matter what side you're on, though, Jex feels it's not the people carrying permits you have to worry about. It's those who don't.

John Jex: "That's what concerns me, is people who aren't legally carrying, and do anyway."

It's been a long legal process and it's not over yet. Here's a timeline:

  • Back in November 2001, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff issued a formal opinion that a University policy restricting firearms violated state law.
  • In March 2002, the University filed a lawsuit in US District Court.
  • One year later, Federal Judge Dale Kimball abstained from hearing the case, until the issues are resolved in state court.
  • The University then filed state claims in Third District Court.
  • In September 2003, Judge Robert Hilder ruled the University did not violate state law.
  • One month later, the Attorney General appealed that decision.
  • In February 2004, the Utah Legislature passed amendments, clarifying the firearms statutes, making it clear the University policy violated state law.
  • In August 2004, the Utah Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the case.
  • Today, the high court ruled AGAINST the University of Utah, ending the state case.
  • The federal case can now go forward.

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