By Ember Herrick
As a private institution, BYU is able to hold students to a different standard when it comes to academics, personal conduct, and concealed weapons-for now.
In a forum, the University of Utah”s Vice President of university relations, Fred Esplin warned BYU students that concealed weapons on campus might soon become a Utah County issue.
“The law does not make a distinction between public and private and to think that if this law goes through it is only going to affect the University of Utah is a very naive position,” said Ryan Keller, President of the Students against Violence Organization that sponsored the forum.
The U of U has been under fire for its policy against concealed weapons on campus since the 2002 legislative session when Esplin said gun rights lobbyists began pressuring State Attorney General Mark Shurtleff to declare the university”s gun ban policy illegal.
Shurtleff argues that the state legislature – not state agencies – has the sole authority to regulate gun policy and has threatened the university with fines and lawsuits for refusing to comply.
The university responded with a “friendly lawsuit” against Shurtleff and the Attorney Generals Office.
The U of U, which has prohibited firearms on campus since 1977, is currently waiting for a decision from the 3rd district court that will either support the current policy or overthrow it allowing anyone with a concealed weapons permit to bring firearms on campus.
Currently, BYU and the U of U do not allow students, administrators or teachers to carry concealed weapons on university owned property.
BYU is actually more conservative in its stand, banning even visitors from carrying concealed weapons on campus.
But all that could change, although BYU is a private institution, Shurtleff has stated publicly that the law applies to both private and public institutions and that action will be taken against the university if the court rules in favor of the state.
This is disturbing for Julie Johnson, 23, an English major from Seattle Washington, who said the issue is not about gun laws, but the government controlling academic freedoms.
“I think BYU students should be more afraid of what the government can tell them to do then someone with a gun on campus,” Johnson said. “It could even come to terms to determining the curriculum, enrollment or admissions, I think even something like the honor code.”
Not everyone is concerned about more guns on university campuses.
“I think that the presence of concealed weapons on a campus would not deter anyone from standing up being able to say what they want to say,” said Jared Wade, 24, an economics major from San Jose CA. “You don”t need to be phobic about the presence of arms, it will only deter violent crime.”
The court will decide in the next two weeks to dismiss or uphold the universities policy or for the issue to be heard in a state court.
Because this is the first case of its kind in the nation, all eyes will be on Utah as the precedence is set between who makes the rules on university campuses: the administrations, or the states.