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Guns on campus: Proposed ballot initiative aims to ban concealed weapons at public colleges

Update: A proposed ballot initiative that would ban concealed handguns on public college and university campuses was given the go-ahead yesterday by a state board that reviews such measures. But that doesn't mean the initiative will automatically be on the ballot. Starting in mid-January, the proposal's backers will have six months to collect 86,105 valid signatures from voters. If they're successful, the question will appear on the November 2014 ballot.

Continue to read more about the proposed initiative.

Original post, January 2: Should concealed handguns be allowed on college campuses? Retired Littleton police chief Heather Coogan and businessman Ken Toltz don't think so, and they're attempting to put an initiative on the November 2014 ballot asking whether Colorado voters agree. This afternoon, the state board that gives the green light to proposed ballot initiatives will consider a measure proposed by Coogan and Toltz that would add public college and university campuses to the list of places where it's illegal to carry a concealed handgun.

In 2013, state Senator Rollie Heath and Representative Claire Levy, both Democrats from Boulder, proposed a bill in the state legislature that would have done the same thing. But although the House approved the measure, Heath killed the bill after realizing it likely wouldn't have enough votes to pass in the Senate.

Toltz, who testified for the bill, says he immediately began thinking of a way to bring the issue back. In October, he founded Safe Campus Colorado, an organization chaired by himself and Coogan, who previously served as the police chief on Denver's Auraria campus, which is home to three colleges. The organization's purpose is to get an initiative banning concealed weapons from college campuses onto the 2014 ballot.

"If the legislature fails to act, it's up to the citizens," says Toltz, who has two college-age daughters and taught as an adjunct professor at the University of Denver for four years. He currently works as a consultant for entrepreneurs.

"Interactions with students can sometimes be stressful for both faculty members and students," he says, "and I believe that the presence of concealed guns threatens the safety of everyone on a college campus."

In 2003, the state legislature passed a bill allowing permit-holders to carry concealed weapons. The law included a few exceptions, including that permit-holders cannot carry concealed weapons on the property of elementary, middle or high schools.

The proposed initiative aims to add public colleges and universities to that list. Toltz notes that private universities, such as DU, can already ban concealed weapons. But when the University of Colorado tried to do the same, a group of students sued -- and the Colorado Supreme Court sided with the students, ruling in March 2012 that CU must allow concealed-weapon permit-holders to carry their guns on campus.

Eight months after the high court's decision, a University of Colorado Denver staffer who had a concealed-carry permit accidentally fired her weapon while at work, injuring herself and a coworker.

While Toltz acknowledges that banning concealed-carry weapons from college campuses won't prevent gun violence from occurring -- a lesson learned from the incidents in Aurora, Newtown and, most recently, Arapahoe High School -- he says it's a step in the right direction. "When I started this, I didn't foresee all these things," he says, referring to the aforementioned shootings. "But that feeling of powerlessness is really debilitating. And a citizens' initiative gives people the opportunity to do something."

If the state Title Setting Review Board okays Toltz and Coogan's proposed initiative this afternoon, proponents of the campus concealed-carry ban will have six months to collect a total of 86,105 valid signatures from voters in order to get the initiative onto the November 2014 ballot.

That's a lot of signatures, but Toltz is confident that the effort will be successful. "I know that our society believes that guns are a threat; that's why we don't allow them on airplanes or in public buildings, and it's why they search everybody who goes into a football game," he says. "That needs to be the law on college campuses."

More from our Gun Culture archive: "Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America calls for change after Arapahoe High shooting."

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at melanie.asmar@westword.com