Students Against Violence will be sending over ten thousand signatures of University of Utah, Westminister College, and BYU students who oppose Senate Bill 108 to Governor Mike Leavitt this week, in hopes that he will veto the bill and keep guns off school and college campuses.
Representatives from the various colleges are combining their efforts to collect the signatures, and hope to hold a press conference with news programs on Channel 2 and Channel 5 to publicize their efforts and make their last plea to the legislature.
President of Students Against Violence, Ryan Keller, 22, a junior from Salt Lake City majoring in philosophy, said that he and others are just trying to make the government represent what the people want.
The club has received an amazing response from students who are supportive of their efforts, and don’t want the bill to go through.
One of the thousands of students to sign the petition, Ashley Smith, 19, a sophomore from Glendora, Calif. majoring in English stated, “it’s great that students are making an effort to voice their opinion on issues that are negatively affecting our school.”
Violence in schools has become a major concern for schools across America, and has even started pushing thousands of schools into taking extra precautionary towards school safety; metal detectors, surveillance cameras, security guards, school uniforms and countless other methods to keep guns off school property. However, Utah is the only state that is trying to keep guns on campus.
“There is more to life then having a gun and using it,” said Elizabeth Carlston, 21, a junior from Littleton, Colo. majoring in public relations.
Carlston was a junior at Columbine High School during the fatal 1999 shootings. In her math class at the time, Carlston remembers walking to a nearby park after the fire alarm went off, then minutes later, running through the neighborhood as bullets flew out the windows of the school.
“Kids were frantic and crying,” Carlston said. “There was so much trauma and terror.”
Yet one of the biggest arguments for the bill is that students will be safer if responsible citizens with a concealed-weapon permit are allowed to carry their guns in public and private areas.
“The only time you would ever pull out your gun is if you or a third person is in life threatening danger,” said Nathan Raisor, 29, a sophomore from Provo majoring in mechanical engineering.
But Carlston said she doesn’t think a concealed-weapons permit holder could have prevented the tragedy of the shootings at Columbine.
“It was such a scary day – who expects you to open gunfire in your school?” Carlston said. “With the frantic and chaotic circumstances, I think everyone paralyzes with terror.”
But the Utah legislature has chosen to replace sugar with bullets, as the Senate approved banning soft drinks and candy from elementary school vending machines on Feb. 25, and approved permitting guns on campus on Feb. 26. On March 4, the Senate passed the bill, leaving Governor Leavitt’s signature the last step before the bill is made into a law.
“If you have a gun in your sight, you always have the ability to kill someone else in an instant,” Keller said. “So I assume that someone sitting next to me will always act rationally, but in a sense my life is in his hands and every person that is around me.”
Carlston also feels that “it is not a good idea to give people access to weapons in a stressful environment.”
Enoch Lambert, 22, a junior from Ithaca, N. Y. majoring in international studies said he would fear for his safety if guns were allowed on BYU campus.
“On a campus like BYU where there’s very little violence, no deathly gun violence, no guns on campus – do they honestly think that a sudden influx of guns on campus will do more good then harm?” Lambert said.
Lambert also said that someone who buys a gun obviously has the intention to use it.
The problem with the bill is especially evident at University of Utah, where there would be no regulation of concealed-weapon permit holders bringing their guns in fraternity homes or the football stadium – both areas where drinking is allowed.
But on private campuses like BYU, spokeswoman Carri Jenkins stated that “BYU as a private property holder has rights under the federal constitution for safety issues.”
According to Carolyn Perkins, dean of students at Salt Lake City’s privately owned Westminster College, Westminster holds the same laws about gun possession as BYU does.
When asked what action Westminster would take if the bill happened to pass, Perkins, with a nervous laugh, said, “at this point we’re waiting to see what happens.”
BYU Democrats president, Aaron White, 24, a senior from Ithaca, N.Y. majoring in international politics and economics stated, “I certainly would feel less safe is people were carrying concealed guns onto our campus. The laws for getting a concealed weapons permit in Utah are very lax compared to the rest of the country.”
In the state of Utah, obtaining a concealed-weapons permit is relatively easy. If you have over $130 for processing fees, have “proof of good character,” pass a criminal background check, and take a Weapon Familiarity Certification course, you could have certification in less then a week.
“To me, what’s more important – my right to live or someone else’s right to carry a gun?” Keller said.
However, Raisor, who is also a concealed-weapons permit holder, feels that holding a gun is a protection issue, not a power issue.
“People that have permits are not people that will be messing around, they are people that know justification,” Raisor said.
Raisor said he feels safer carrying a gun and would feel more comfortable if his kids went to school with other concealed-weapon permit, gun-carrying citizens.
The Salt Lake Tribune quoted Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, the bill’s sponsor, insisting that Utah has nothing to worry about, since less than 1% of the state’s population would get the permit to carry a concealed gun anyway.
“If 18 year olds can go out with government guns and fight the Iraqis’, they should be able to carry them on campus,” said Brett Sperry, 21, a freshmen majoring in chemical engineering from Mesa, Ariz.
Sperry is also in favor of the bill.
“So far we have zero percent gun usage at BYU,” Keller said. “If we increase guns, will we beat those odds?”