Gun-free CU-Boulder dorms are target areas for criminals, student group says

While some professors are not happy with a policy change that allows students with concealed-carry permits at CU-Boulder to bring guns into their classes, one gun-rights organization has an opposite concern. The most unsafe place on campus, according to Students for Concealed Carry, is the one place where guns are not allowed.

The dormitories.

Gun debates at Boulder were first sparked by a Colorado Supreme Court ruling in March ordering CU to allow concealed-carry-permit holders to have guns on campus. More recently, the campus has made headlines for new rules announced last month that restrict students from having guns in undergraduate dorms and events, though they can still carry them pretty much everywhere else on campus.

These more recent changes have gotten a lot of attention in part because CU-Boulder announced that it would allow students to apply for family housing units where guns would be permitted, prompting some outlets to report them as segregated dorms for gun holders. That's not really the case, and last time we checked, not a single student had taken advantage of this policy.

And while CU-Boulder professors speaking at a town-hall style meeting this week expressed fears about students having guns on campus, the student group that pushed the university to lift the gun ban in the first place is more concerned with safety in the gun-free dorms.

"By having the dorms be the one place where guns are not allowed, you are creating a vulnerable area where criminals can target and where folks wouldn't be able to fight back," says David Burnett, director of public relations for Students for Concealed Carry, a national gun-rights group that filed a lawsuit against CU in 2008 arguing that the ban against concealed weapons contradicted state laws.

"Any criminal is going to go to a place that is easier for him or her to engage in an act of crime," says Burnett, 26, a 26-year-old University of Kentucky student. "Naturally, criminals will gravitate toward places where victims are defenseless."

He says he is pleased with the Colorado Supreme Court ruling allowing gun owners to legally carry their guns on campus, but remains concerned that the policy has essentially shrunk "the gun-free zone to a dorm-sized dot on the map."

"If I'm a criminal, I'm gonna home in on the one place where nobody can fight back, and right now that's the dorms," he says.

The restriction on dorms can also be frustrating for those with concealed-carry permits, he says: "I must forcibly disarm myself and abide by the dormitory gun-free zone, even though I'm a responsible, licensed individual."

In response to Burnett's concerns, Ryan Huff, a spokesman for the CU-Boulder Police Department, says campus dorms have always been safe and remain so.

"The residence halls have been free of guns since they were founded, so I don't think the announcement of there being a lack of guns in the residence hall really changes [anything]...from a security perspective," he says.

As we've noted before, concealed-carry permit holders have to be 21 or older, and the majority of students who live in the dormitories are younger -- so even if guns were allowed in dorms, it's likely that it would be a very small percentage of residents anyway.

Continue reading for more of CU-Boulder's defense of its safety record in dorms and classrooms. Huff says the campus police department has many safety measures in place for dorms. There are typically attendants in the lobbies, students need identification cards to get into buildings and their rooms, there's a full-time police force that is certified with the same training as the City of Boulder's police officers, and these officers are able to respond quickly to any incident that may arise.

Huff also says he's not aware of any gun violence that has happened in residence halls.

As another spokesman for Boulder told us last month, dorms involve specific contracts, which is why the university is allowed to restrict guns there.

Huff says one reason for this policy involves concerns over having guns in a dorm environment and how they might be safely stored -- and what could happen if another student were able to get access to such a weapon.

"People who live in the residence halls who are gun owners are typically pretty responsible," Huff says, noting that gun-owners are allowed to check in their guns with the campus police department.

"I don't believe changing firearm laws on campus is going to make a difference," Burnett says in response to the university's concerns that students without permits could access guns. Burnett argues that an individual who wants to commit a crime would illegally obtain a gun some other way, like taking one from a relative's house or breaking into a car.

(That argument resembles comments from Governor John Hickenlooper in the immediate aftermath of the Aurora theater shooting, when he said he doesn't think stricter gun laws would have stopped alleged shooter James Holmes).

In response to concerns from professors about guns on campus, Huff says he also doesn't know of any problems with guns in classrooms or professors asking the police department to check permits.

"While it can be concerning that there's the potential to have a firearm in the classroom, we have not had reports of any problems with that," Huff says, noting that there were no issues before or after the March ruling.

For his part, Burnett says worried professors are missing the bigger picture.

"I think they are legitimate feelings, but they are misinformed feelings," he says. "I'm assuming that none of these professors fear for their life when going out to the grocery store or shopping mall or movie theater or restaurant. And these are places that permitted citizens have carried in for years without incident."

More from our Education archive: "James Holmes, aka The Llama: Bizarre photo, impressive docs from grad school application"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at [email protected].

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