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Students resist Colorado State gun ban

Activists at the Fort Collins campus say a ban will make them more vulnerable to a Virginia Tech-style attack.

December 28, 2009|By Nicholas Riccardi

Reporting from Denver — After a gun-wielding student killed 32 at Virginia Tech, faculty at Colorado State University in Fort Collins found, to their alarm, that theirs was one of the few public schools in the country with no policy banning firearms. Anyone with a concealed weapons permit could legally carry on campus.

Students, however, were alarmed when the faculty moved to change that.

Among other arguments, students contended that permitting people to carry concealed weapons was the campus' best defense against another tragedy.

"Let's say you have another Columbine or Virginia Tech," said Dan Gearhart, the student government president. "People want the ability to protect themselves."

Still, Colorado State's Board of Governors unanimously directed the presidents of the 22,000-student Fort Collins campus and the system's smaller campus in Pueblo to draw up weapon restriction policies. (The system also maintains what it calls its Global Campus online.) It cited a study by an association of campus police chiefs that concluded private firearms didn't help protect schools.

The governors are scheduled to finalize the new policies in February.

At Colorado State's main campus, where the student government voted to oppose any restrictions on concealed weapons, student leaders circulated a petition urging a permissive policy.

"Students were really disregarded in a lot of the discussions," said sophomore David Ambrose, a student senator majoring in business. "Banning concealed weapons on campus makes students second-class citizens compared to the rest of Colorado."

It's a rural state, and many students, professors and campus workers are hunters. Gun ownership is so widespread that the University of Colorado at Boulder has opened a gun storage facility where students can deposit their firearms.

"It's definitely more of a Western thing," Gearhart said. He keeps a shotgun in his Colorado Springs home that he mainly uses for skeet shooting.

But Pueblo students supported the limitations, Board of Governors spokeswoman Michele McKinney noted.

The governors "respect and understand there are going to be different views on this matter," McKinney said. "But they think this is a responsible step."

Most public colleges and universities around the country impose some restriction on firearms on campus. The notable exception is the 44,000-student University of Utah. The school had a gun ban for decades, but state legislators lifted it in 2004.

In 2003, Colorado's Legislature passed a law allowing holders of concealed weapons permits to carry their firearms anywhere in the state.

The University of Colorado at Boulder then banned guns on its campus and this year won a lawsuit filed by gun-rights groups that sought to overturn the ban. That victory added momentum to the Colorado State faculty's push to restrict guns.

Republicans have already vowed to try to overturn the Colorado State board's decision. One, state Rep. Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs, tweeted “VA Tech all over again!” after the vote.

Democrats control both houses of the Legislature.

Richard Eykholt, a physics professor and chairman of Colorado State's faculty council, said that carrying a gun at universities is different than elsewhere.

In the classroom, he said, "one of the things we try to do is push students out of their comfort zones. An effort to provoke controversy is not unusual."

And, he pointed out, students often live in dorms or other close quarters, they're often on their own for the first time and they often drink excessively.

At the meeting where the board voted on the ban, Brady Allen, a former Marine and history major at Colorado State, said safety concerns were misplaced.

"You might as well ban everything that has a potential risk -- cars, alcohol and sports," he said.

Advocates of the restriction point to the study, prepared by the International Assn. of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, cited by the Board of Governors.

The study found that of the 30,000 Americans killed by guns in 2005, only 147 were shot in justifiable homicides -- in other words, for protection.

The report, prepared after several states discussed allowing guns on campus in the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech killings, concludes: "There is no credible evidence to suggest that the presence of concealed weapons would reduce violence on our college campuses."

nicholas.riccardi@latimes.com

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