By Chris Casey | University Communications
AURORA, Colo. - The School of Medicine Faculty Senate voted unanimously on Tuesday to support a petition that asks University of Colorado President Bruce Benson to activate the university's legislative lobby to restore jurisdiction of firearms policy to the Board of Regents.
The petition, co-authored by four professors in the university system, comes in the wake of a March ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court. The court upheld an appellate ruling that struck down CU's 136-year-old gun ban, saying that the state's concealed-carry gun law supersedes CU policy that prohibited concealed weapons on campuses, in leased buildings and areas under purview of university police.
The School of Medicine Faculty Senate invited one of the petition's authors, Chad Kautzer, PhD, assistant professor of philosophy at CU Denver, to explain the petition. Following his presentation and 15 minutes of questions, the Faculty Senate voted 28-0 to endorse the petition.
"I think the Colorado Supreme Court ruled correctly that that was the intent of the law -- that CU could not prevent firearms on campus," Kautzer told the senate. "What we're trying to do is get the university on board ... to ask for an exception for CU."
Current places that are exempt from Colorado's conceal carry law are: locations where concealed-carry weapons are prohibited by federal law, K-12 schools, public buildings with metal detectors and private property.
Kautzer noted that state Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, has expressed a willingness to introduce a bill to change the law in the legislative session that begins in January.
Kautzer said the petition has been circulated via non-university email accounts for a few weeks and has so far received more than 400 signatures. He stressed that the co-author professors -- the other three teach at CU-Boulder -- are acting as individuals, and not on behalf of the university.
"The petition is trying to, in a sense, mobilize the general will on campuses in Colorado to get a feel for how much support there is," Kautzer said. "My experience so far is that there's overwhelming support for this kind of change."
Prior to the discussion, Faculty Senate President Todd Larabee, MD, assistant professor, Emergency Medicine, said the weapons policy issue directly affects faculty. "It's an important topic for our campus and all the university campuses," he said.
Chris Puckett, senior assistant university counsel, said it's important to remember that, from a university standpoint, employees can't use official university resources to lobby for or against a political measure. The university is not trying to stifle dialogue, he stressed.
"These are the kinds of conversations you should be having," he said. "... It merely is a recognition that the political environment in which this conversation is being held is very volatile and we don't want any one individual, or individuals, to get swept up in that and be accused of doing one thing or another. Ultimately, it is not going to be any of our single decisions anyway. It's all outside our hands, and yet the conversation is important to have."
Meanwhile, feedback from the Denver Campus Faculty Assembly has been provided to the lobbyists representing CU to Colorado lawmakers. "The consensus is that faculty are not happy with the idea of guns on our campus," said Robert Flanagan, chair of the Denver Campus Faculty Assembly. "Our group has discussed this, but we also respect the court's ruling."
At Tuesday's Faculty Senate meeting, Doug Abraham, chief of the University of Colorado Denver Police Department on the Anschutz Medical Campus, was asked how many people have concealed-carry permits on CU campuses and in the general Colorado population. Abraham said he doesn't know the numbers because the state permit-holder database was purged after the Legislature allowed the law's database requirement to expire. Only individual sheriffs have that information as they issue the permits.
Another faculty member asked Abraham what should be done if someone is told by a person that he or she has a concealed-carry permit, and that information is construed as alarming to the message recipient. "You call us, end of story," Abraham said. "... It's what's alarming to you, not me. We (the police) would rather be called 99 times than miss one, absolutely."
Abraham added that concealed-carry permit holders can still violate university policy if, through their carelessness, another person is able to see the weapon. "They can't be carrying it in such a fashion, displaying it, or doing anything with it that causes alarm to somebody else," he said. "It's going to be a real fine line. This is not clearly defined. This is new territory for the University of Colorado given its 136-year history of no weapons on campus. A lot of these things, we're figuring them out as we go."
One petition signer said she has not felt as safe at work since the Aurora shooting this summer. "This small step could make a difference to us," she said of the petition. "Why should the right to feel safe at my workplace be subservient to someone else's right to carry a concealed gun at all times?" Another signer said, "I am a professor at CU Denver and firmly believe that firearms have no place in any educational institution."
Kautzer said the petition campaign will mobilize to include general media coverage and guest-opinion articles submitted to newspapers.
A Faculty Senate member asked Chief Abraham if he could elaborate on last week's incident in which a gun discharged in the office of a staff member at the School of Dental Medicine. A staff member, who has a concealed-carry permit, and another staff member in the office sustained minor injuries, but neither were hospitalized. Abraham said the incident remains under investigation.
"I can tell you that there was nobody outside of this small area that was in danger," he said. "There was no risk to the campus. It was an accidental discharge."
(Photo: Assistant Professor Chad Kautzer addresses the School of Medicine's Faculty Senate about the petition to grant CU an exemption to the state's concealed carry gun law.)