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Months After Aurora Massacre, University of Colorado Sparks Fear, Outrage by Allowing Concealed Guns

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For the first time in 40 years, the University of Colorado is allowing students with concealed-carry weapons permits to keep guns at some off-campus housing. The decision was made in accordance with the state Supreme Court’s ruling in March that found the university’s gun ban violated a 2003 state law allowing concealed firearms. It comes just months after former University of Colorado graduate student James Holmes shot dead 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. We’re joined by Colorado University-Boulder Professor Noah Molotch and by Colorado Democratic State Representative Claire Levy, who plans to introduce legislation that would overturn the state law requiring universities to allow concealed guns on campus. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: That song, Boomtown Rats, “I Don’t Like Mondays,” a song inspired by remarks made by a convicted murderer, Brenda Ann Spencer, who at the age of 16 went on a shooting spree at an elementary school in 1979. Spencer showed no remorse for her crime, and her full explanation for her actions was, “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day.”

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. We’re broadcasting from Denver, Colorado, actually just outside Denver in Littleton, Colorado. Gun-control advocates are urging President Obama and Mitt Romney to address gun violence at tonight’s debate in Denver. The debate takes place 10 miles from the site of the Columbine school shooting and 15 miles from the Aurora theater where 12 people were gunned down this past July. The mass shooting at the Aurora movie theater was carried out by a former University of Colorado graduate student, James Holmes.

Well, the University of Colorado is now at the center of a simmering gun debate. For the first time in 40 years, the university is allowing students with concealed-carry weapon permits to keep guns at some off-campus housing. The decision was made in accordance with the state Supreme Court’s ruling in March that found the university’s gun ban violated a 2003 state law allowing concealed firearms. Boulder’s online newspaper, The Daily Camera, spoke to students about their thoughts shortly after the state court ruling.

BEN ROTE: I don’t think that we should let people just bring any kind of gun onto campus. I think that we should restrict that right to people who have completed concealed-carry permit application processes. And ultimately, that’s going to keep us safer, because criminals don’t pay attention to “no gun” signs.

SARANG KHALSA:I believe that the constitutional rights are—should be upheld for citizens. And that being said, it does sort of concern me a little bit about the stability of everybody on a college campus, just because sometimes people are under a lot of stress or are not always sober, and stuff can happen. So I feel a little bit uneasy about it, because it’s not a personal choice of mine to own a gun, but I do realize it’s a constitutional right, and I’m not going to deny one right over another one that I do believe in more.

GAVIN DAWSON: And I highly disagree with the gun ruling on campus. I think that this is a—even though this is a state-run school, I don’t think there should be guns allowed on campus. Look at Columbine. Look at Virginia Tech. It doesn’t really lead to good things.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by two guests. Noah Molotch is an assistant professor of geography at Colorado University, Boulder. And we’re joined by Democratic State Representative Claire Levy. Her district includes the Boulder campus. She plans to introduce legislation that would overturn the state law requiring universities to allow concealed guns on campus.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now!. State Representative Levy, how did this happen? Explain the legislative process and why the University of Colorado is changing their law.

REP. CLAIRE LEVY: Well, yeah, thanks.

So, in 2003, the state legislature changed the law to pre-empt all local control over where a person can carry a concealed weapon, and there was some ambiguity about whether it included college campuses. University of Colorado challenged that law, because they felt that they should have control over weapons on their campus. In March, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that they were pre-empted, that they could not make their own rules, and therefore concealed weapons would be allowed on any public college university campus in Colorado. So, my legislation would put that decision back in the hands of the people who are responsible for the safety of students and faculty on their campuses.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you say that universities should be exempt from the state law?

REP. CLAIRE LEVY: Well, I think they’re responsible for the safety of the students. They’re responsible for the safety of college campuses. These are places of learning. And those who have those responsibilities should make the decision about whether to allow concealed weapons.

AMY GOODMAN: Noah Molotch, you teach at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Talk about what’s happening on campus, the concerns of the professors.

NOAH MOLOTCH: Yeah, I would say that, overwhelmingly, 100 percent of the faculty—there could be a few that I haven’t heard from, but overwhelmingly, the faculty are against having firearms on campus, whether they be by concealed-carry permit holders or carried illegally. And there’s a couple of reasons for that. One is that we have judgments levied upon students in classes. We have a relatively high dropout rate. And so, we do have students that go through some pretty unpleasant experiences sometimes in their—during their four years at the university. They’re also growing a lot as individuals. And so, through that process, sometimes they go through some emotional stress. And having firearms injected into that environment, I think, is unhealthy. There’s also a lot of dissenting views expressed on campus. We have all political spectrums represented on campus voicing their opinions on many different issues. And having firearms present in those kinds of discussions is also, I think, potentially volatile.

AMY GOODMAN: So, your concern, your own personal concerns about, for example, grading students?

NOAH MOLOTCH: Yeah. You know, I connect with my students, I think, on a pretty deep level, and not only during lecture, but also when I pass out their graded exams. And in some cases, that failing grade that I might have to issue to a student as part of my duties as a professor could be that final failing grade that pushes them out of the university. And that has a potentially big impact on their life, and that’s a potential for some irrational behavior, that, after all, they are just human beings. I wouldn’t necessarily want a firearm in my own pocket throughout my daily experiences, and I wouldn’t expect that most human beings should be trusted to behave appropriately with a firearm in their pocket under those kinds of circumstances.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, last night I was giving a talk at the Unity Church in Boulder, and someone was speaking to a woman who had come up to me and said, “Are you carrying?” And I thought this is a very rude question to ask, if she’s pregnant. And then the person said, “No, I meant are you carrying a weapon?”


AMY GOODMAN: I’m not used to those kinds of questions, the whole idea of concealed weapons, you know, here in Colorado.

NOAH MOLOTCH: Well, you know, I think that there are—you know, Colorado is a very diverse state. It’s, in some ways, a microcosm of the country. I’ve lived in—on the Western Slope of Colorado, which is politically very different from the metropolitan areas of Denver and Boulder. And we are a state university, and we have to respect the political views of the entire state, including the laws written in the state constitution, which is why we’re in the situation we are now.

But I think that even on both sides there’s a recognition that perhaps the classroom is a place where a firearm is not necessarily a good thing to have. And there’s been ideas thrown out there like having gun lockers on campus, so that people can carry their firearms and then lock them up. Those ideas haven’t been floated by the administration, I should be clear about. But, you know, there isn’t a good solution to this. We need to—you know, I think the only good solution is to ban firearms from campus and just identify the campus as a special place as, like a court room or a K-through-12 school. Why is the university any different from a K-through-12 school? I really don’t see the difference in terms of safety and the place of firearms.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to an interview that Fox News did with Michael Guzman, a member of the national group, Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. He explained why he believes students with concealed handgun permits should be able to carry guns on campus.

MICHAEL GUZMAN: The only thing we’re advocating is that people that already have a concealed handgun license, that already carry in their everyday life when they go to the bank, the grocery store, shopping mall, theaters, to go ahead and allow them to carry on campus. We don’t feel that the campus is some magical environment, when as soon as they step foot on there, that they lose all sense of logic and reason.

AMY GOODMAN: State legislator Levy, your response?

REP. CLAIRE LEVY: Well, I think it’s really kind of absurd—I don’t know a better word for it—to think that people should be walking around going to class with guns on their person. You know, you come to college to get an education. It’s a safe place. Statistically, it’s one of the safest places you can be. And, you know, there’s a mentality that carrying a weapon should be an everyday occurrence, that it’s—you know, when you get ready to go to class, when you get ready to go to dinner, that you pick up your wallet, pick up your books, and get your gun. It’s just absurd, is the only word that comes to mind.

AMY GOODMAN: In August, the University of Colorado announced that students carrying guns would be allowed to keep weapons in a limited number of family housing units rather than campus dorms. This is how James Manley of the Mountain States Legal Foundation reacted to the news.

JAMES MANLEY: It’s sort of a policy of separate but equal. If you want to exercise your Second Amendment rights, you have to live in a segregated dorm, essentially. It’s probably going to be the safest dorm on campus. I know a lot of people who don’t have conceal-carry permits are asking how they can live in that dorm, because they know it’s not going to get robbed, and they’re not—criminals aren’t going to target it.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Noah Molotch?

NOAH MOLOTCH: Yeah, I just—if I were—you know, the family housing is housing for representatives of the university, students of the university who have families. And if I had a family as a student, I would be rather appalled at the idea that everyone with a gun is going to be placed next door to me. And I don’t agree that that would be the safest place necessarily to be. There are accidental deaths associated with firearms, are, you know, a considerable chunk of the deaths that occur due to firearms each year. And so, I don’t really see how having firearms within family housing is a good solution to the problem.

AMY GOODMAN: State Representative Claire Levy, this is legislation that you’re talking about, that you have not actually introduced yet, right?

REP. CLAIRE LEVY: That’s correct. The legislature won’t be in session until next January.

AMY GOODMAN: And how much support do you have for this? I mean, what’s interesting is that a number of professors, for example, that are against the students’ concealed weapons, carrying them on campus, are not opposed to, you know, having guns, big supporters of the Second Amendment.

REP. CLAIRE LEVY: Well, yeah. I mean, I think the debate will unfold. But what I really want to emphasize is that we don’t really need to have a Second Amendment debate as part of this legislation. What we need to talk about is what is the right body to make the decision about whether to allow guns on campus. And I think the right body is the university itself and not the state legislature, because the situation right now is that the state legislature sits in Denver, comprised of 165 reps and 35 senators, has decided for the whole state of Colorado what the policy should be. And what I want to focus on in my legislation is who should decide. And I think university administration, those governing bodies, should make those decisions.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us, State Representative Claire Levy, a Democrat from Boulder, Colorado, and Noah Molotch, assistant professor of geography at the University of Colorado, Boulder. And Professor Molotch, congratulations on the birth of your new baby, four days old today.

NOAH MOLOTCH: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you. When we come back, there is a major rally being planned here in Denver. This is the home base of Chipotle. We’ll be joined by one of the spokespeople from the Coalition for Immokalee Workers. He has come to Denver for this rally. Stay with us.

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