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Utah gun law that canceled USU speech is an embarrassment

Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist known for her critical look at how women are portrayed in popular media.
Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist known for her critical look at how women are portrayed in popular media.
Anita Sarkeesian

The inability of Utah State University to impose reasonable protections for a speaker who had received death threats is more than just an embarrassment to the state. It is alarming.

It should not, however, be surprising, especially to anyone who remembers the struggles a decade ago over Utah’s loose concealed permit carrier law. It’s time to revisit that law and allow schools the freedom to protect the public. It’s time Utah law stood up for safety, not the empowerment of bullies.

A decade ago, the University of Utah decided to continue enforcing a 25-year-old campus ban on firearms despite a new law that made concealed weapons fair game at schools. That resulted in a lawsuit that ended in 2006 when the Utah Supreme Court ruled the university had no authority to impose a policy contrary to state law.

The university — the only institution of higher learning in Utah willing to carry the fight — next tried to lobby and work with lawmakers to craft a compromise. What they ended up with was a 2007 law that allows any student living in a dormitory to specify that he or she does not wish to room with a concealed weapon permit holder — nothing more.

Churches, it should be noted, also expressed concern over the law and, unlike schools, were allowed to publicly declare their own no-guns policies. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns this newspaper, subsequently registered its no-gun position.

The issue, both then and now, is not about the wisdom of allowing people who have passed special courses to legally carry a concealed weapon. This makes sense under the Second Amendment to the Constitution, although it should not apply under all circumstances and it is a myth to believe the issuance of such a permit is a guarantee against crime.

No, the issue is common sense.

Anita Sarkeesian was scheduled to speak about how women are portrayed in popular media, and especially in video games. Late Monday, someone sent an email to about a dozen USU offices threatening a deadly massacre if she were allowed to speak. It threatened “the deadliest school shooting in American history.”

School officials and law enforcement said they determined the threat was not credible, but that really didn’t matter. Under Utah law, Utah State University had no choice but to let people with permits carry guns into the hall, and they had no mechanism for determining who had such a permit and who was, in fact, carrying a weapon.

Sarkeesian, who said she has spoken in the face of death threats elsewhere, canceled her speech, citing concern over that law.

Common sense would dictate that a university could prohibit weapons and set up metal detectors at an event that has been targeted with death threats. If an armed officer were present, this would be a much more effective counter to any attack than the crossfire of multiple weapons carriers.

But common sense has been brushed aside.

For whatever reason, the gaming community has attracted an element that threatens to kill feminists. Such threats should not be taken lightly, nor should arguments that a room full of people with concealed weapons is a deterrent to a deranged criminal be given credence.

Utah lawmakers need to change this silly and potentially dangerous law.