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CU-Denver accidental shooting: Now ex-staffer trying to unjam gun when it fired

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Update: A University of Colorado staffer who accidentally fired a shot on campus last week, injuring herself and a colleague, is no longer employed by the university. A police report from the incident reveals that the ex-worker, Mary Beth Loeb, was showing her coworkers her handgun, and trying to unjam it, when she accidentally fired a bullet that ricocheted and hit another woman.

As we noted in our coverage, on view below, the incident is especially noteworthy, because it appears to be the first accidental discharge of a gun on a Colorado campus by someone with the proper permit since the Colorado State Supreme Court ordered CU to allow such individuals to bring guns on campus.

As the police report confirms, Loeb had a Concealed Handgun Permit.

The lengthy report, from the University of Colorado Denver Police Department, says Loeb, a financial business manager for the School of Dental Medicine, had reported to police a suspicious person who appeared to be following her. In that case, no one was located or contacted. And because of recent incidents of theft on campus, as well as violence near her home, she had acquired a handgun, Loeb told police.

She was telling coworkers about her possible stalker when she decided to show them the handgun. However, the weapon got jammed and while trying to fix it, a shot was fired.

When police arrived, the small .22 caliber handgun was sitting on top of a filing cabinet near Loeb and had not yet been unloaded.

Continue for more of our update about the shooting incident on the Anschutz Medical Campus. Loeb, 49, suffered a minor laceration on her right hand index finger. The handgun had no warrants on it.

The bullet accidentally fired from the gun appears to have bounced off a nearby filing cabinet, then ricocheting again from the carpet to the leg of Loeb's coworker, Lilibeth D. Lopez-Gonzales, a patient coordinator for the School of Dental Medicine. Lopez-Gonzales, who confirmed the nature of the accident to police, said another coworker "was excited to see Loeb's gun. In fact, they were thinking about getting one for themselves," the report says.

Lopez-Gonzales didn't realize right away what happened, but subsequently "noticed that her leg was bleeding a little bit."

She suffered a minor laceration on the back of her right leg calf area, smaller than the size of a dime, according to the report.

An officer took Loeb aside "and was assisting her because she seemed to be very stressed out and upset with herself about the incident."

The other witness, the report says, stated that she was "happy to see the handgun and admired how small it was. She further added that Loeb took the handgun apart to make it safer for them, and then she was trying to put it back together."

Misdemeanor charges have been filed against Loeb -- one count each of Prohibited Use of Weapons and Unlawful Conduct on Public Property, issued through a summons.

The report says that Loeb repeatedly made statements that "it was an accident," "it's my fault" and "I'm so sorry."

A University spokesman says that Loeb is no longer employed by the University, as of yesterday, but that because it is a confidential personnel matter, no further details can be given.

Here are some excerpts from the report and our original coverage below:

Continue for our original coverage of the accidental shooting. Original post, November 13, 2:58 PM After winning a long battle to allow those with concealed-carry permits to bring guns onto campuses in Colorado, a gun-rights organization is now responding to what appears to be the first-ever accidental discharge on a local campus from someone with the proper permit. The staffer who fired a shot at the University of Colorado suffered injuries -- as did another individual in the room.

The incident took place on Friday inside an Anschutz Medical Campus office, according to a university spokesman. Although no one was hospitalized, it's likely that heated debates around bringing guns on campus will resurface in response to the accident.

The discussion around the regulations of guns on campus in Colorado made headlines in March when the Colorado Supreme Court ordered CU to allow concealed-carry-permit holders to have guns on campus. In August, however, CU-Boulder announced that it would be restricting access to guns in undergraduate dorms and at events -- a move that gun rights groups opposed.

The main organization that has lobbied for permit holders is Students for Concealed Carry, a national group that originally filed a lawsuit against CU in 2008, arguing in part that a ban against concealed weapons contradicted state laws.

Part of that organization's argument has been that concealed-carry permit holders have a right to bring guns everywhere else, so banning such weapons on campus is discriminatory. In addition, the group says, those with concealed-carry permits face background checks and have gone through training. Forcing them to disarm, then, would not increase safety on campus, and could possibly cause it to decline.

No wonder the group was disappointed to learn about the CU shooting -- especially since the gun holder in question had a permit.

According to CU spokesman Dan Meyers, a staff member of the School of Dental Medicine took a gun out in an office, after which it accidentally went off.

"The person with the gun and one other person were very slightly injured," he says.

It is not known yet if the other person was a student or an employee. The injuries were not serious enough to require either of those hurt to go to the hospital, but it's unclear at this time what kind of injuries were actually sustained.

The police are investigating the matter, and the staffer who fired the shot is currently on administrative leave, Meyers adds.

Officials with Students for Concealed Carry say this is the first time there has been any accidental discharge of a gun by a concealed-carry permit holder on a campus in Colorado, and only a handful of such incidents have taken place on campuses across the nation.

"We are, of course, concerned about the incident," says Kurt Mueller, the group's director of strategy. "We would like to remind everyone in possession of firearms that it's important to follow basic rules of firearm safety. We would infer from this incident that that was not done in this case."

Still, Mueller says he is worried about the potential backlash the incident could spark -- an unmerited reaction, he believes, since such accidents are rare and permitted gun holders are responsible.

"It's not indicative of anything," he says. "Concealed carry is a reality of life in Colorado...and has been for many years.... This could have happened anywhere..... There's nothing about the college environment itself that led [to] this accident.... The fact that this happened at a college is almost irrelevant."

Mueller points out that guns have been allowed at Colorado State University since 2003 and at all public universities in Utah in 2006, yet there have been virtually no incidents like this one.

"My basic argument is this: We're trying to change where people can carry, not who can carry. If you're a citizen of Colorado, you are around people who are...carrying all the time," he says. "Do you ever go to the grocery store? Do you ever go to the mall?... Do you ever walk down the street?... The question is not, why should this be allowed? The question is why should this be banned [on campuses]?... Do you have reason to believe that people...are suddenly going to become wildly irresponsible as soon as they walk on campus?"

Continue for response from organizations that have opposed the policy to allow guns on campuses in Colorado. Local advocacy groups that push for stricter gun laws say the incident highlights larger problems with the concealed-carry permit process.

"People with permits may have been law-abiding citizens at the time that they got their permit, but they don't necessarily stay that way," says Annmarie Jensen, a lobbyist who works with Colorado organizations that support stricter gun laws. "Most parents would not think that more guns on campus is an enhancement to public safety. We need to appeal to the parents and...make sure our kids are safe. And guns on campus is not the way to keep our kids safe."

Eileen McCarron, president of the Colorado Ceasefire Capitol Fund, a local advocacy group, says the incident is evidence that better restrictions are needed.

"This staffer was clearly in someway irresponsible," she says. "We are fortunate the injuries were not severe...but lives were endangered.... They could've been killed."

She points out that the incident took place at the campus where James Holmes, the alleged Aurora theater shooter, studied.

"It's just another reminder about how much we as Americans suffer because of a nation awash in guns," she says.

David Burnett, director of public relations for Students for Concealed Carry, says he does not want to see this incident become fuel to opposing groups.

"My concern is that critics of concealed-carry are gonna take this and try to use it to take away my right to protect myself," he says. "That would be an excessive overreaction."

He says the individual who fired the gun should face necessary consequences from authorities, adding, "When things like this happen, it becomes a teachable moment when we can talk about following the rules of gun safety."

Still, he says, it's just one person: "If some drunk driver gets behind the wheel, we don't use that as a justification to...take away licenses from everybody."

Meyers, the CU spokesman, says this incident appears to be an isolated one.

"There is concern anytime you have any sort of weapon going off under any circumstance on a campus," he says. "We are grateful that the injuries were minor."

In terms of any formal university actions in response to this incident, he points out that officials are required to allow those with permits to bring guns on campus.

"CU is following state law," he says.

More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Bike safety: Driver and badly injured cyclist both cited in Boulder crash"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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