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Utah students hide guns, head to class

  • Story Highlights
  • Utah is only state where students, professors can carry guns at all public colleges
  • One University of Utah student carries a firearm so he won't become a 'victim'
  • Another student says she feels less safe, knowing classmates might have guns
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By Joshua Molina
Special to CNN
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CNNU campus correspondent Joshua Molina is a senior at Brigham Young University. CNNU is a feature that provides student perspectives on news and trends from colleges across the United States. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the schools where the campus correspondents are based.

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University of Utah senior Nick shows how he keeps his gun concealed.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (CNN) -- The senior at the University of Utah gets dressed and then decides which gun is easiest to conceal under his clothes.

If he's wearing a T-shirt, he'll take a smaller, low-profile gun to class. If he's wearing a coat, he may carry a different weapon, he said.

He started carrying a gun to class after the massacre at Virginia Tech, but the student says he's not part of the problem of campus shootings and could instead be part of a solution.

Nick, who asked not to be fully identified so his fellow students wouldn't know he carried a gun, says he has had a concealed weapons permit for more than three years. But it was Seung-Hui Cho's murderous campus rampage that made him take a gun to class.

"Last year, after Virginia Tech, I thought 'I'm not going to be a victim,' " Nick said.

"My first thought was 'how tragic.' But then I couldn't help but think it could've been different if they'd allowed the students the right to protect themselves."

Days after another campus shooting -- in which five students and the gunman died at Northern Illinois University -- students at colleges in Utah, the only state to allow weapons at all public universities, are attending classes. See which states have laws about hidden weapons on campus »

Nick says his gun doesn't make him feel immune from attack. "But I feel that I will be able to protect myself, and I'm confident in my training and my ability," he said.

His confidence is not shared by fellow student Griselda Espinoza, who recently transferred to the university. Some 28,000 students attend the school, as of the latest enrollment figures.

"I feel less safe knowing that a stranger sitting beside me in class may have a gun in his or her backpack," she said.

"The only people that should carry guns are trained officials."

University of Utah spokeswoman Coralie Alder stressed that although the school has become a poster child in the media regarding guns on campus, the debate is really a statewide issue.

"The university is following the law as determined by the Utah Legislature during last year's session, which allows concealed weapon permit holders to carry guns on university and colleges campuses, as well as other locations," she said.

Amanda Covington, Utah State Board of Regents spokeswoman, would not comment on the current gun laws on school campuses.

However, she said the regents are opposing a legislative proposal to allow people with concealed weapons permits to have the weapons visible in public.

"We are worried that it may affect their [students' and teachers'] willingness or desire to go to or teach a class on campus," she said.

The University of Utah, based in Salt Lake City, had prohibited firearms on its campus until that ban was struck down by the state's Supreme Court in late 2006. The institution, backed by all other universities in the state, is still fighting through federal courts to reinstate the ban.

But state legislators could be moving in the opposite direction, considering a bill to modify current law to allow people in Utah -- including students -- to carry loaded weapons openly.

Utah State Representative Curtis Oda said the bill, which he is sponsoring, is merely to clarify that people with weapons permits may carry a gun openly or -- with a concealed permit -- they may hide it for the sake of surprise.

He stressed that people with permits have gone through rigorous checks.

"When you see someone with a gun, you are looking at some of the most law-abiding people in the state," he said.

The issue goes beyond campus. Last year, a few miles from the University of Utah, a man walked into Trolley Square, a Salt Lake City shopping mall, and opened fire. Police were there in only three minutes, but the shooter had already killed five people and wounded four others.

"And not just shootings, but [serial killer] Ted Bundy did some of his crimes at the University of Utah campus," said David Seelly, a recent University of Utah graduate who says he carried a concealed gun on campus.

"If one of those ladies was a concealed-weapon holder, she could've stopped him before he did as much as he did."

To get a permit to carry a concealed weapon, people in Utah must, among other things:

  • Be 21 years old
  • Have no criminal record of violent, immoral or substance-related crime
  • Be mentally competent.
  • Student Kevin Rechtenbach of the University of Utah said he was open to carrying a gun, but not certain that would solve problems.

    "If acts of terrorism continue on campus, then I will have no choice but to carry a concealed weapon," he said.

    "But you see, that is where the problem lies: Everybody will end up carrying concealed weapons, and everyday problems will be solved with guns rather than words or even fists."

    The only places on campus that have restrictions are the dormitories. Students can request a roommate who doesn't carry a gun.

    Private colleges in Utah, like the Mormon Church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo, do have more power to ban weapons on campus, but that, too, causes disagreement among students.

    "I own some guns, and I wish I was allowed to have them at school," said Collin Barker, a BYU student. "I would just keep [them] in my car for target shooting."

    Casey Matheny, from Plano, Texas, now studying at BYU, appeared indifferent to the debate over students carrying guns.

    "I don't mind if they have one, I just don't want to know about it," he said.

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    Rob Morrison, a BYU student from Ontario, Canada, doesn't think that having guns on campus would necessarily stop a potential killer.

    "The people that do it want to commit suicide anyway," Morrison said. "But it would give students a chance to defend themselves, and at Virginia Tech, it could have ended sooner than it did." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

    CNN's Mallory Simon contributed to this report.

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