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University of Utah creates task force related to guns on campus

By Debbie Hummel

Associated Press

Security concerns related to the state's requirement it allow guns on campus and the recent shootings at Virginia Tech have prompted the creation of a University of Utah task force to study security policies, school officials said Tuesday.

For decades, the university enforced a ban on guns, but in 2004 the Legislature passed a law clarifying that the school is subject to a state law that allows concealed weapons on state property. The university challenged the law, but the Utah Supreme Court upheld it last year.

Utah has the nation's only law that expressly allows the carrying of concealed weapons at public colleges.

Wayne McCormack, a law professor and head of the new task force, says that creates a need for the school to evaluate some issues related to campus security and guns.

That includes deciding how to implement gun-free areas the Legislature has permitted at the university, he said.

Students living on campus can request they be paired with roommates who do not carry concealed guns and the school has been given the OK for a secure hearing room, where contentious meetings could be conducted in a gun-free environment.

"Some people on campus feel they're being put at greater risk and some say, 'No, no, no," McCormack said. But he says the debate over whether the guns on campus help or hinder public safety is not a matter for the task force.

"I want to work on enhancing our security and safety in light of the current law," he said. "We have a very effective security and response system on this campus. We're only going to look at things from a perspective of: Can we improve?"

The 12-member task force includes students, faculty and staff at the school and is scheduled to have its first meeting this week.

McCormack said they hope to present recommendations to university President Michael K. Young, who called for the task force, by the end of the upcoming fall semester.

Clarifying how to house students who don't want a concealed weapons permit holder as a roommate could be tricky. Concealed weapons permits are not a matter of public record and the task force will try to determine if the school can legally ask permit holders to volunteer that information, McCormack said.

Other areas of concern include how to instruct students and staff to report seeing a weapon on campus or a person exhibiting hostile behavior. The task force will also consider changes to the number of lights, security cameras and emergency phones on campus and how to improve law enforcement response and communication during an emergency.

The task force will not be considering policies that involve the school's broader emergency plan as it relates to earthquakes, severe weather, technological failures or environmental health.

"There's no perfect world but we're going to do the best we can to keep people safe," McCormack said.
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