DENVER – The spat over guns at the University of Colorado campus reignited Tuesday as the chancellor warned professors against trying to thwart students who lawfully bring a concealed firearm to class.
Chancellor Phil DiStefano fired off an email to the faculty informing them that professors “do not have the right to shut down a class or refuse to teach” if they learn that a student is carrying a concealed weapon with a permit.
His warning comes after Boulder Faculty Assembly president Jerry Peterson told the Daily Camera that he plans to cancel class if he discovers any of his students carrying concealed weapons to class. A physics professor, Peterson said he was worried about the safety of students during heated discussions.
The university issued rules on concealed carry last week in response to a March decision by the Colorado Supreme Court overturning the campus ban on firearms. The court held that state universities are not exempt from a 2003 Colorado law allowing permit-holders to carry concealed weapons on public property.
“I have the utmost respect for Professor Peterson, who is an old friend and valued colleague, but I want to make clear that if the student carrying the weapon has a concealed-carry permit, the position implied by Professor Peterson’s comments directly violates Colorado law and the operating principles of the campus,” DiStefano said.
The university’s newly released rules restrict permit-holders from carrying concealed firearms in undergraduate dormitories and to ticketed events such as concerts and games. Students who wish to live on campus will be assigned to one graduate-student apartment complex, prompting grumbling from gun-rights advocates, who fear CU officials are trying to segregate gun owners.
“I think CU has shown a disregard for students who are concerned about their own safety and decide to do something about it,” said Luke O’Dell, a spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.
CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard said the university may restrict access to ticketed events because buyers agree to certain restrictions when they purchase their tickets. As for the housing situation, gun owners must be 21 to obtain a concealed-carry permit, and the apartment complex, Athens North, is reserved for students 21 and over.
He said Athens North is located on university property not far from the main campus. “These apartments are on campus property. They’re 200 yards from the main quad,” said Hilliard. “We’re not assigning them to some far-flung outpost.”
He added that there were concerns about having guns in freshman and sophomore dorms. “In undergraduate housing, where you have a bunch of 18- and 19-year-olds, concealed carry was not seen as a terribly wise choice,” said Hilliard.
The university’s gun rules have gained national attention, even overshadowing the news Monday that CU had reclaimed its title as the “#1 Reefer Madness” school by The Princeton Review guide to U.S. colleges.
Greg Gutfeld, host of the FoxNews humor program Red Eye, predicted Monday that the CU “gun dorm” would be “the safest place on campus.”
“I think there needs to be a study after this that shows where the most robberies occur,” said “Daily Caller” senior editor Jamie Weinstein on the show. “I’ll bet you zero for the gun dorm, and a lot more for all the other dorms. The question is, if you’re not carrying a gun, can you apply to stay there? Because you’ll be very safe.”
James Manley, the attorney for the Mountain States Legal Foundation who brought the case on behalf of Students for Concealed Carry, said Peterson’s reaction wasn’t representative of all CU faculty.
“I’ve gotten positive feedback off the record from faculty members,” said Manley. “They support the effort and the ruling of the Colorado Supreme Court. Any professor who thinks that the only thing stopping someone from killing people is the old rule [banning guns] is deluding themselves.”
That hasn’t stopped one professor from launching an online petition drive to overturn the 2003 Colorado law. Chad Kautzer, an assistant professor of philosophy at CU Denver, began his effort in late July and had collected 104 signatures as of Tuesday.
“We are therefore left with no other choice than to repeal Colorado’s Concealed Carry Act in order reduce the probability of gun violence in our educational institutions,” said Kautzer in a statement.
Manley noted that professors are unlikely to discover whether students are carrying guns. “It’s a concealed firearm,” said Manley. “The whole idea is that you can’t see it.”
Gun-rights advocates say they plan to watch how the rules play out during the 2012-13 school year to make sure permit-holders’ rights are respected.
“We’re taking a hard look at the rules and how CU is applying them,” said Manley. “If we have to go back to court, that’s an option.”