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Utahns mobilizing to make gun ban in schools a reality
Legislators accused of snubbing public

The public message is clear: Remove guns from school campuses -- now.

And if those elected to state office won't carry out the will of the people, an increasing number of Utahns of both political parties are mobilizing to take matters into their own hands.Private citizens and organized groups are taking action to address what many see as a dismissal by a majority of the Utah State Legislature to heed the public wish to ban guns in schools.

A coalition of educators, religious leaders and activists met this week with Gov. Mike Leavitt to talk about a citizens initiative to ban guns -- even those carried legally by a concealed weapon permit holder -- from public schools.

In addition, the Youth Issues Alliance, with agencies affiliated with the Youth Advisory Board, has organized a series of community meetings that began Friday in Holladay. The purpose? To remind lawmakers about what people in their neighborhoods say about the emotional subject of guns on school campuses.

"This is a grass-roots effort," said Ruth Adams-Steed, executive director of the alliance. Members of the Utah PTA are passing out fliers for the meetings.

When politicians won't do the will of the people, said Adams-Steed, "what is the point of our system?"

Some private citizens, too, say they have been silent long enough.

"We do need to be more organized. I personally am going to do more. We must be ready with funds to combat the NRA," said Jeanne Jardine, PTA president-elect for Highland High School. "I don't know how many children we need to lose before we do something."

Jardine is Republican. She is the former president of the Utah Junior League and former editor of Parent Express magazine. She has been an educator. "The GOP locally and nationally are behind the curve of what middle-class sentiment is right now."

A Deseret News poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates just before last winter's legislative session showed 90 percent of Utahns favored a ban on all weapons, including concealed weapons, in schools. The poll was conducted before a recent fatal shooting at the LDS Church Family History Library and a massacre at Colorado's Columbine High School.

Still, lawmakers have refused to act.

Religious organizations, the PTA, Utah Education Association, doctors and the Utah Hospital Association have gathered to take action.

"We feel there is a need for a special session and that the special session does need to address the gun safety issue," said Dee Rowland, head of government services for the Utah Catholic Diocese.

The initiative is being considered because many in the coalition have watched the Legislature ignore the guns-in-schools issue.

"There is a feeling that the House of Representatives may not respond to what the polling results have shown," Rowland said.

The Legislature last rejected a school gun ban this past session.

The guns-in-schools issue first surfaced after the state liberalized its concealed weapons permit law in 1995 and thousands of Utahns got permits to carry guns.

Of 30 states that have passed laws that have liberalized the carrying of concealed weapons, states surrounding Utah -- Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada -- have explicitly excluded schools, Rowland said.

"For Utah not to do this is just beyond the realm," she said. "This is such a mainstream concern."

Members of the Utah House need to hear from their constituents, she said, because lawmakers are hearing mostly from a vocal minority now. "It's our job to stimulate more input from the mainstream."

When people feel strongly enough to rally as they have on this issue, politicians must listen, Adams-Steed said. "And if they don't, the people will take action."

The surge of action occurred in the same week that House Speaker Marty Stephens, R-Farr West, issued his strongest statements about the guns-in-school issue.

He accused some politicians -- and referred to Leavitt and House Minority Leader Dave Jones, D-Salt Lake -- of being "intellectually dishonest" with the public in presenting the issue.

In an interview, he said he knows the arguments from educators and Democratic lawmakers; he knows what the polls show.

"But these aren't reasons to take people's rights away," Stephens said, referring to right to bear arms.

"I'm deeply offended," Jones said Friday. "There is an arrogance here that is astounding."