By David Johnson
Recently, a BYU student was walking on campus when he noticed a man with a gun sliding out of his pant leg. The student informed a university officer, who questioned the man as the gun fell out of his pant leg again.
The man, who identified himself as a BYU student, told the officer that he had a concealed weapons permit, yet the officer handcuffed him and took him to the University Police Department.
“It was questionable to handcuff him, but in the same situation I would like to think that I would have done the same thing,” said Michael Harroun, captain of BYU”s University Police.
Although the state of Utah has a formal agreement with 14 other states, which recognizes concealed weapons permits, not all universities in Utah comply with this agreement. BYU is not required by law to allow guns on campus because it is a private university. Although BYU does allow ROTC students to have guns on campus with their uniforms, the university prohibits all other weapons, even those recognized with a permit.
Much of the controversy with guns on BYU”s campus centers around how well the university informs both students and visitors about its weapons policies.
Erik Davis, assistant general counsel for BYU, said weapons policies are clearly stated for students under BYU”s student access, Route Y. He said through Route Y students can access policies through the university”s electronic handbook under “Safety – Accident” and then “Firearms and Weapons Policy.”
“The policy is quite clear, but there are always things we can do to make people more aware,” Davis said.
Davis said BYU is always interested in finding better ways to inform both students and visitors that guns are not allowed on campus.
“When in doubt, don”t bring a weapon on campus,” said Sgt. Lynn Rohland of the University of Utah”s police department.
The U of U, which has been in the forefront of prohibiting guns on university campuses, has posted signs at both the Huntsman Center and the Rice Eccles Stadium to inform the general public about the university”s policies against weapons on campus, Rohland said.
Davis said there are so many private rules that apply on BYU”s campus that it would not be practical to post them all.
“Our principal concern is safety and having signs on campus might increase that awareness,” he said. “However, there has been very little misunderstanding of BYU”s policies and guidelines.”
Harroun said students who are found with weapons on campus, but have a permit, will receive a verbal warning first.
“For officer safety, protection and the safety of the public, we are going to check for the permit,” he said.
Referring to situations such as the 1993 Weber State University shooting, where the shooter injured three people before he was killed by a police officer, Harroun said BYU officers would handcuff students found with a weapon as an extra precaution. This added precaution is left to the discretion of the officer, he said.
Although the student who was recently handcuffed at BYU had a permit, Harroun said the student did not handle the gun properly and was therefore handcuffed and taken to the department for questioning.
Harroun said if a student is found with a weapon on campus after the verbal warning, he or she is referred to BYU General Counsel. If the same student is found a third time with a weapon on campus, he or she is considered in violation of the Honor Code and reported to the Honor Code Office.
The procedure for handling weapons on university campuses is a controversy that extends further than BYU, Harroun said. BYU and other universities such as Weber and Utah State University are waiting to see the outcome of the U of U”s resistance to weapons on campus, he said.
After a decision is made, each university can enforce gun policies more easily, Harroun said. However, the U of U”s fight with the state of Utah in prohibiting guns on its public campus has been in the courts for several years.
Davis, who has been assistant general counsel at BYU for almost five years, said the original controversy at the U of U did not originate from a specific incident.
If the U of U”s prohibition of weapons on campus finds favor with the state of Utah, BYU can enforce its policies with greater ease. But if the U of U is not allowed to prohibit weapons on campus that could also affect BYU”s enforcement, Davis said.
Lt. Shane Sessions, of Utah State University”s Patrol Division, said although Utah State currently allows guns on campus, if the U of U was allowed to prohibit weapons, the prohibition would be established statewide. He said it would not be practical for one public university to allow guns on campus while another prohibits it.
Firearms and Weapons Policy:
* Brigham Young University prohibits the possession or use of firearms and weapons on property owned or controlled by the University, including residence halls
* Firearms or weapons includes any device that can expel a projectile, and/or other dangerous weapons, including knives, explosives, or other items that in their intended use, are capable of inflicting serious injury. Because these items pose a clear risk to the persons and property on the BYU campus, violation of this policy may result in suspension from the University, prosecution under appropriate city, state, or federal laws, and/or up to a $300 University fine
* No one (personnel, students, or visitors) except law enforcement officers of either the State of Utah or of a Federal Law Enforcement Agency shall be permitted to possess or carry firearms or other weapons, concealed or not concealed, with or without a concealed weapon permit, while upon properties owned or controlled by the University without specific written permission from the Chief of University Police
(For comments, e-mail David Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org)