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Students too late in veto plea

College students urging Gov. Mike Leavitt Thursday to veto a bill allowing concealed weapons in school environs were a day late. Leavitt already had signed the controversial measure, SB108, on Wednesday.

Student leaders from University of Utah, Brigham Young University and Westminster College gathered in the Capitol rotunda to speak out against the bill and to present petitions with more than 1,500 signatures to the governor, asking that it be vetoed.

Leavitt has said publicly that although he personally opposes guns in schools or on school grounds, the bill was necessary to clarify current laws regulating concealed weapons, spokeswoman Natalie Gochnour said.

The students said the governor acted counter to public opinion. Polls among Utahns in general and among students all show strong majorities are against guns at school, they said.

"This is not a simple issue. We don't say guns are bad, but we believe schools are not the place for them," said Kelly Ann Booth of the University of Utah.

Universities and colleges are "bastions of free speech," U. student body president Bill Edwards agreed. "Guns could have a negative effect on open dialogue regarding divisive issues. We want our message heard loud and clear. We don't want guns on our campuses."

SB108 supposes that gun carriers would always be in control of themselves and their weapons, said BYU spokesman Ryan Keller, president of the campus branch of Students Against Violence. "You can't always know that," he said, especially in situations where alcohol is involved. And there is no guarantee that some other individual might not end up with the weapon.

Westminster's representative, Aaron Thompson, attorney general in the student government, told the Deseret News that in one instance, a professor who was carrying a concealed weapon at the school dropped it on a restroom floor. The potential for such accidents is not negligible, he said. Many government officials admit that they think it is bad policy, but lack the backbone to resist liberal gun laws, he said.

Maryan Basmenjic, a U. student, said there has been a lot of strong discussion on the campus about pending war in the Middle East. "I felt safe (discussing the issues) without guns. We can continue to express differing opinions, but the possible presence of a gun will always be in the back of our heads. I believe it will curtail academic freedom."

The students presented their petitions to Leavitt's office staff even though their effort was already too late.