A University of Colorado discussion about guns on campus changed course Wednesday as at least a half-dozen people in the audience identified themselves as students with concealed-weapon permits and defended their right to bring firearms to school.
The vocal majority at last month's forum expressed collective dismay and concern over a Colorado Supreme Court decision that struck down CU's gun ban.
Top campus officials organized the second forum because concealed carry continues to be a hot topic on campus since the high court's ruling last spring.
This time around, several attendees expressed their support for the Supreme Court ruling, and some said they were concerned that concealed-weapon permit holders have been demonized by the campus community.
"As a permit holder, I don't feel that the university has a unified message. I almost feel like there's a harsh reaction towards me," said Steve Ojala, an MBA student. "I'm here to protect. I'm not a criminal. I don't have a background record. But I feel like I'm a criminal."
Provost Russ Moore said the campus has tried to communicate in its emails that the university is following the law.
"I think we've tried to be very consistent and certainly not tried to demonize anybody who is exercising their legal right on campus," Moore said. "There's certainly been an emotional swirl around the issue."
Elisa Dahlberg, who said she served in the Air Force and worked for a short time with the Aurora Police Department before attending CU, urged campus leaders to put together a colloquium so people can better understand students who carry guns on campus.
"People are always scared of what they don't understand," she said.
Samuel Flaxman, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at CU, said he doesn't fear students with guns and feels safe in the classroom, but he outlined other concerns -- such as why there is a culture on campus that says the classroom
is a place students ought to have guns and why students aren't allowed to bring toy Nerf guns to class but can bring weapons.
"We're hearing people who are pro-gun saying they feel threatened and harassed, and we're hearing people who are against guns saying they feel threatened and harassed ... Can we get to a point where we're not suspecting each other?"
Guns are allowed mostly anywhere on campus -- barring the dorms and university-owned Bear Creek apartments. CU has also set aside a limited number of housing units, standalone cottages and some rooms in Athens North that those with concealed-weapon permits can live as long as they lock up their guns in safes when they aren't home. So far, nobody has requested to live in any of those units, which become available in January, said Chancellor Phil DiStefano.
CU also bans people from bringing guns to ticketed events -- such as football games at Folsom Field or concerts at Macky Auditorium.
CU law professor Mimi Wesson said she takes issue with guns being allowed in her classroom but banned elsewhere.
"Why you would think that preserving the status quo for football games and concerts is more important than preserving the learning environment in my classroom and in my office, where a lot of learning takes place, is something I think I would like an explanation for, and I haven't heard one yet."
DiStefano responded that the large crowds at events -- including 50,000 fans in Folsom on game day -- mixed with drinking alcohol presented major concerns for him.
The chancellor also said that as university officials considered CU rules over the summer, they studied the policies of other universities.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or firstname.lastname@example.org. ___
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