The University of Utah's fight to maintain a long-time policy that bans concealed weapons from its campuses now moves to state court. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball found that the majority of the university's claims are based on state law and should be filed in state court. However, Kimball left open the option of hearing the U.'s First Amendment claims if the case is filed in federal court within 20 days of the state court's resolution of the issue.
Meanwhile, the U.'s gun ban remains in place pending an answer as to whether the institution's 25-year-old prohibition is in violation of state law. Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has contended that only the Utah Legislature can create gun regulations.
Although the U. faces a difficult fight with respect to the Legislature's role in creating gun regulations, it is to be commended for its substantial efforts to protect its long-held policy and its First Amendment right to make its own rules. Although any number of Utah colleges and public schools likewise object to Utah's concealed weapons law, no other entity has sought a solution to the issue through the courts.
The Attorney General's Office is urging the university to work with the Legislature to change the law. While that would be a gentlemanly approach to resolving this issue, history suggests the Legislature has dug in its heels and will not entertain adding schools and college campuses as exemptions to the concealed carry law.
This past legislative session, the public school lobby worked in good faith with legislators to resolve a conflict between the criminal and state education codes with respect to concealed weapons. Instead, they ended up with a law that says concealed weapons are fair game in schools. Not only that, school districts lost the section of the school code they believed made employee restrictions on carrying guns into schools enforceable.
The resulting changes are so confusing that some education attorneys believe the law could be construed to mean students now could legally carry guns in their cars parked in school parking lots.
It is deeply regrettable that the Utah Legislature has turned a blind eye to the wishes of the public on this issue. Public opinion polls on this issue have never wavered — Utahns don't want concealed weapons in schools. Yet, Utah's concealed weapons law is far more liberal than many states. Texas doesn't permit concealed weapons holders to carry guns onto public school or college campuses. Colorado, which is significantly revamping its concealed weapons laws, likewise excludes schools.
There is always the hope that the Legislature will reconsider its actions next year. In the meantime, we applaud the U. for its efforts to defend a policy that protects students, educators, staff and visitors to the U.'s campuses and helps ensure a free exchange of ideas.