by Howard Stephenson
The University of Utah is in the news again regarding their longstanding ban on guns on campus. University administrators have decided to file a second lawsuit to uphold the University’s ban on concealed weapons on campus. Their first lawsuit – filed in federal court – was thrown out because the federal court lacked jurisdiction over parts of the case. Now, the U’s Academic Senate, followed by its Board of Trustees, has voted to file the second lawsuit. There was little debate and the votes were unanimous. To them, this was a “no brainer:” guns simply don’t belong in a civilized academic setting.
The University is supported in this action by Utah’s major news organizations’ editorial pages.
I usually keep this column to subjects affecting taxes, the economy, and free enterprise. But I can’t help voicing my opinion on this subject, since somebody ought to express an opposing opinion.
The founders of this nation were careful to establish a separation of powers among the three branches of government. They intended that the powers of government be vested in three separate entities which use that power to check and restrain the powers of the other two branches.
In this case, the legislative branch of government has established laws allowing authorized concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns on Utah college campuses. Various college and university administrators around the state have decided that the legislature’s authority to set laws doesn’t mean much. Leaders at the University of Utah claim, in filing their lawsuit, that the University has the right to set its own firearms policy even when those policies run afoul of state law. In other words, leaders in the executive branch of government don’t like a statute authorized by the legislature. So, instead of trying to convince the legislature to change the law, or getting the people to change the law directly through the initiative process of direct legislation, the University of Utah has challenged the constitutionality of the statute.
The University claims that the first amendment right of free speech is threatened when individuals exercise their freedom to carry a firearm. They say there is a risk that in the heat of debate someone might pull out their gun and start shooting. I’ve never heard of this happening, but University officials say it’s so much a threat that the Legislature’s law allowing legally authorized persons to bring guns on campus must be disobeyed. They say even the possibility that someone has a gun on campus could stifle academic debate.
To me, the argument is utterly preposterous. If the constitutional guarantee of free speech can trump the constitutional right to keep and bear arms, then we’re in deep trouble. Besides, I can think of a whole lot of places where the emotional levels of debate exceed those in college. Should we ban guns in bars? What about homes? After all, the kitchen table is where many of life’s most intense debates occur. Based on this logic, all facets of the political process ought to be gun-free.
But regardless of how anyone feels about guns on campus or anywhere else, the real issue here boils down to whether the various parties support the notion of rule of law. If we believe in our Constitution, we know this issue must be solved through the legislative process. Those who believe otherwise are attempting to overturn the laws through judicial activism.
It boggles my mind to see how many supposedly well-educated individuals in the media are calling for judicial activism to overturn this law instead of simply working to get the law changed. Assistant Attorney General Brent Burnett agrees. He said, “We believe clearly that the Legislature determines what the public policy of the state of Utah is and should be. If the University of Utah is unhappy with the policy created by the Legislature, then their remedy should be to go to the Legislature and try to change things there.”
Again, the issue is not about whether university administrators and editorial writers agree with what the Legislature has done to allow guns on campus, but whether they understand the important concept called “rule of law.”
Apparently they don’t.