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U. keeping ban on guns for now

Trustees accept SB48 but await 2 legal rulings

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Despite a new state law to the contrary, the University of Utah will continue to enforce its no-guns ban on campus until constitutional claims are resolved.

The U. Board of Trustees took the action in a meeting Monday after trustee Hope Eccles read from a one-page statement, which said the U. "accepts the Legislature's action" but that state and federal constitutional issues remain "unresolved."

If both the Utah Supreme Court and a federal judge say that the U. cannot act independently of state law regarding gun regulations, then the U. will comply with the new law, said U. trustee Jake Garn.

Fred Esplin, the U.'s vice president of university relations, said the administration will follow the trustees' direction and "we'll act as quickly as possible to resolve the remaining legal issues."

Monday's statement from the U. says that the trustees acted out of a "good faith concern" for faculty, staff and students and "not from a misplaced sense of autonomy from state control." University officials contend the Utah Constitution allows schools to regulate firearms on campus.

A bill carried last legislative session by Senate Majority Leader Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, was supposed to send a clear message to the U. on the issue. Waddoups sponsored SB48, in part, as a response to a "friendly" lawsuit over the issue between the U. and the Attorney General's Office.

Neither Waddoups nor House Majority Leader Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, were available for comment Monday.

In August, 3rd District Judge Robert Hilder ruled in favor of the U.'s 30-year policy banning guns on campus after the university sued the state in a legal tug-of-war over who has authority to control firearms on campus. Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who ignited the standoff when he issued a legal opinion saying only the Legislature has authority to enact gun control measures in the state, appealed Hilder's ruling, but said he might back off if SB48 became law.

The 2004 Legislature passed SB48 and on March 23 Gov. Olene Walker signed the bill into law. It essentially says that the Legislature — not school officials — set state gun policies.

"I think schools and churches ought to be able to make that determination," Garn said.

Specifically, Garn said he would like the State Board of Regents to decide gun policies for the state's nine public colleges and universities.

The new law, however, says that public school districts, public schools and "state institutions of higher education" cannot regulate firearms unless authorized by the Legislature. By law, guns can only be banned in courtrooms, jails, prisons, airports and mental health institutions.

Shurtleff has not backed off his appeal, and the constitutional issue over who can enforce gun control on campus remains unresolved. If the Utah Supreme Court rules against the U., the plan is to have a federal judge hear the case.

"The question is will the Utah Supreme Court resolve the issue whether the U. can make its own rules contrary to state law," said assistant Attorney General Brent Burnett.

E-mail: sspeckman@desnews.com