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Handguns on Campus Make Utah Model After Court Ruling

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA
Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, speaks at a news conference outside the U.S. Supreme Court after the announcement of a ruling in a case overturning Chicago's ban on handguns in Washington. Photographer: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Students at Utah Valley University and other public colleges in the state are free to carry concealed handguns on campus if they have a permit. Nick Moyes is one of them.

“It’s about self-defense, the ability to defend yourself,” said Moyes, 28, a student who brings his Sig Sauer P-226 9mm handgun onto campus in Orem, Utah, every chance he gets. “That’s a God-given right.”

Moyes’s pistol-packing privilege has nothing to do with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling June 28 that will likely be used to attack gun laws across the U.S. In 2007, Utah said holders of concealed-weapons permits like Moyes may bring such weapons onto campus, providing that right long before the justices ruled.

Now, states including Michigan and Colorado may find themselves following Utah’s lead as gun advocates file court challenges and propose legislation to scuttle existing bans on weapons on campus. Driving future efforts will be the Supreme Court’s ruling, which extends the federal right to bear arms to states, said James Jacobs, a law professor at the Manhattan campus of New York University and author of a gun-control book.

“It will take years to flesh out the full extent of the Constitutional right to bear arms,” he said of the likely impact of the court’s ruling in McDonald v. Chicago.

The decision was a victory for the National Rifle Association, which joined a group of Chicago residents in challenging the city’s handgun ban. Jacobs said courts around the country will now be asked to decide how far to apply the McDonald ruling. One issue judges might be asked to rule on is whether it applies to private-school gun bans, he said.

Lots of Questions

“There will be lots and lots of questions,” Jacobs said.

Rachel Parsons, a spokeswoman for the NRA, said the gun-rights group wants “a national dialogue” over “what we’re going to do to keep our kids safe when they’re at school.”

David Burnett, president of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, said his group is encouraged by the court ruling.

“As far as the ruling itself, we would be hard pressed to take the ruling and apply it to campuses,” said Burnett, a 2009 graduate of the University of Kentucky in Lexington. “But it is indicative of the movement as a whole. If cities can’t ban guns, why should a board of directors of a college be able to?”

25 States Prohibit Guns

Twenty-five states now prohibit guns on college campuses and 23 others leave it up to the schools, said Andy Pelosi, director of, a New York-based group. Outside of 10 public schools covered by the Utah law, only two colleges elsewhere in the U.S. now permit the carrying of guns, he said. There are also new rules in Colorado.

Georgia allows those with a permit for a concealed weapon to keep guns in their cars on campus, said Daryl Robinson, counsel to the attorney general there.

“Obviously the landscape is going to change with McDonald, so we’re concerned,” Pelosi said in an interview.

In Utah, the law bars students and faculty from bringing guns onto campus unless they have a concealed carry permit, Scott Troxel, a spokesman for the attorney general, said. Moyes, now a senior at Utah Valley University, had openly carried a gun in his holster from September until March, when police stopped him. Because he has a concealed-carry weapons permit, he now wears his weapon inside his waistband.

Why I Carry

Moyes, who said seven of the 35 students in his accounting class also had concealed-carry permits, laid out his reasons for carrying weapons to school, where he is studying business management.

“Columbine, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois University, Huntsville, Alabama,” he said, listing high school and college campuses that were sites of 53 killings by shooters using rifles and handguns. “For some reason bad guys like to pick gun-free zones to enact their mass shootings. I refuse to be a victim.”

Gun-control advocates find comfort in language in the McDonald opinion that seemingly permits bans of weapons on campus. Speaking for the court, Justice Samuel Alito said the right to bear arms is not one “to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” He said the decision “did not cast doubt” on longstanding regulations that prohibit the carrying of firearms at schools.

Very Clear

Daniel Vice, a lawyer with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington, said the Supreme Court went “out of its way” in the McDonald case to say laws banning weapons on campus are “presumptively constitutional.”

“With the language in the decision, I think we have a leg to stand on,” Pelosi said, while adding that he still anticipated a surge in legal attacks on gun laws.

Before the gun battle plays out in courts, advocates of looser laws are likely to turn to legislatures, Jacobs said. Last year, two laws were proposed in Michigan to allow concealed weapons on campus, said Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, which represents 15 public institutions. The schools opposed the legislation, which died in committee, he said.

In Colorado, the 2003 Concealed Carry Act prohibits local governments from limiting the right to carry concealed weapons. The University of Colorado’s Board of Regents voted this week to appeal an April state-court ruling that would force the university to allow guns on campus.


Jim Manley, a lawyer for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, said the appeals fight is over the state law and isn’t based on the Second Amendment or the McDonald case. Still, the Supreme Court’s declaration that the right to bear arms is “fundamental” will “definitely set a tone” and may serve as a basis to attack laws barring guns on college campuses in other states, he said.

After the state court ruling, the Colorado Community College System rescinded a ban on guns at its campuses for concealed-carry permit holders, said Rhonda Bentz, a spokeswoman for the system.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, known as Virginia Tech, was the scene of the deadliest U.S. shooting. Seung-Hui Cho shot 32 students and teachers before killing himself in 2007 at the campus in Blacksburg. The university had a ban on weapons then and still does, said Mark Owczarski, a spokesman.

“The policy is that there is no place for guns on campus, unless you’re the Virginia Tech police,” Owczarski said.

Hunting, Shooting Sports

The only exception is for students who own weapons for hunting and shooting sports, and they must check guns and ammunition into police lockers, Owczarski said. About 40 of the 12,000 students who live on campus do so, he said.

There have been efforts in the Virginia General Assembly to pass laws banning and permitting guns. None has gotten out of committee, said Steven Janosik, an associate professor of education at the school. The Supreme Court decision probably won’t help efforts to permit guns at the school, he said.

“While this latest ruling may give students in favor of concealed carry some increased energy, it will still be a big uphill battle,” he said. “Certainly the campus culture doesn’t agree with that position, in the main.”

Boulus said his Lansing, Michigan-based group has “a very strong position against legislation that would allow guns on campus.”

“We don’t think they are appropriate in stadiums and arenas and the like,” he said.

Secondary Schools

Notwithstanding the anticipated push for more gun rights at colleges, there is no effort afoot nationally to expand gun rights to secondary schools, Pelosi said. Only a single such school district, in rural Texas, now permits the carrying of concealed weapons and that is only for faculty, he said.

Troxel said the Utah concealed carry law also applies to adults in K-12 schools in that state.

The University of Utah hasn’t “had a single incident” since it permitted concealed weapons to be carried there, said Remi Barron, a school spokesman.

At events at which security officers are present, such as football and basketball games, gun carriers will have their permits checked, and students may ask that any roommates assigned to them not have weapons, Barron said. So far, no one has, he said.

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