By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
College students in Colorado and across the nation Monday strapped on empty holsters to protest campus policies banning concealed carry on campus.
The issue hits close to home in Colorado where Colorado State University recently overturned a long-standing policy allowing concealed carry on campus.
Also, the pro-gun student group Students for Concealed Carry on Campus is continuing its quest to overturn the University of Colorado’s gun ban. The group is appealing a lower court decision that dismissed a lawsuit filed by the group last year. The Colorado Court of Appeals heard arguments last month.
Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, which formed after the 2007 Virginia Tech University shooting massacre, says the issue is about self defense.
“Compulsory defenselessness doesn’t make students safer, it makes them less safe,” said David Burnett, spokesman for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. “A piece of paper taped to the door saying guns are against the rules has yet to stop a criminal, whether a mass shooter or an armed rapist.”
Lawyers for the group are arguing that CU’s gun ban violates concealed carry law in Colorado, which states that no local government may limit state law when it comes to concealed carry. El Paso County District Judge David Miller dismissed the case last year, finding that the Colorado Concealed Carry Act only applies to local governments, not statewide institutions like universities.
A spokesman for the CU system points out that the state constitution gives institutions of higher education their own, independent authority to govern campuses Ń almost like a fourth branch of the state government that is separate from local government.
“It’s nonsense to say that this case is about state law and how it applies to our campuses,” said Ken McConnellogue, spokesman for the CU system. “The constitution grants the Board of Regents the right to govern its campuses as they see fit.”
State lawmakers in 2003 passed a measure allowing concealed carry on campuses, but then-Attorney General Ken Salazar, a Democrat, issued a formal opinion that policies created by institutions of higher education trump state law. Formal opinions, however, do not necessarily change law.
McConnellogue added that a better way for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus to make their case would be directly to the Board of Regents, rather than use the court system. He said that while he understands the self-defense argument, he believes the case should be made directly to the board.
“If people want to make that case to the Regents, they’re welcome to,” he said.
But since the CU Board of Regents banned weapons in 1970 and then added teeth to the policy in 1994, effectively banning concealed carry on campus, the weapons policy has not come up for another vote. Students for Concealed Carry on Campus says it has attempted to bring the issue before the Board of Regents, but that they failed, which is what prompted the lawsuit.
Tim Campbell, state director for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, stood on the Colorado State University campus in Fort Collins Monday with his empty holster hoping to send a message to campus administrators.
“Whether you’re a college student on campus or off campus, we all have a right to self defense,” he said.
Only a very small handful of universities across the country allow concealed weapons. In the 23 states that allow state universities to decide their own gun policies, almost all of them ban weapons on campus. Michigan State University has allowed weapons since the summer and Blue Ridge Community College in Virginia has allowed weapons since 1995. Utah prohibits a ban on weapons at all its state campuses, keeping in line with its concealed carry law.
Meanwhile, former Congressman Tom Tancredo, a Jefferson County Republican, is working on a proposed 2010 ballot measure that would ask Colorado voters to recommend to state leaders that they oppose all forms of gun restriction. He agrees that the issue is about self-defense, stopping “horrendous” incidents and protecting the Second Amendment.
“Do you want to protect people, or do you want to be politically correct?” he asks. “Which is your goal?”
But the Washington, D.C.-based Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which has filed a brief urging the Colorado Court of Appeals to uphold CU’s gun policy, sees the issue as being about decreasing gun violence.
“You can’t guarantee that the person who owns the guns is always going to retain control of the gun,” said Dennis Henigan, vice president of law and policy for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “On balance, there’s simply no question that it would increase the risk of death and injury on college campuses Ń that’s why the Regents’ policy here in Colorado is completely reasonable in the interest of student safety and campus safety.”