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Old April 23, 2002, 03:00 PM   #1
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(UT) No-guns petition revived

No-guns petition revived

Group's 'do or die' effort targets churches, schools
By Amy Joi Bryson
Deseret News staff writer

A grass-roots citizens' coalition is picking up where it left off two years ago in its failed attempt to ban permitted concealed guns in churches and schools.

Although the Safe to Learn, Safe to Worship petition started out strong, collecting more than half the necessary 67,188 signatures, the effort faltered due to lack of cash to spread the word.

"This is our do or die here," coalition spokeswoman Maura Carabello said, adding collection points for signatures have been established at the Delta Center during every home game of the Utah Jazz as well as PTA headquarters and the Catholic and Episcopal dioceses.

This second drive gives the group a step up because it can use the 32,000 signatures it collected the last time. State law allows a petition drive to take four years if necessary to collect enough signatures for the ballot. Their deadline is June.

"We are much more focused, much more organized, and we've had great support," Carabello said. "We are feeling very good about our coalition."

The issue the group will pose to voters is a revision in the state law dealing with concealed weapons and where they are permitted. Unlike a couple dozen other states that provide specific bans, Utah's law allows people with concealed weapons permits to carry their guns on school campuses and in churches.

"There are places that guns don't belong, and at the top of the list are schools and houses of worship," Carabello said. "These are unique environments, with one being the environment of learning and the other a religious sanctuary."

Carabello said she believes University of Utah President Bernie Machen's recent stand against allowing concealed weapons on campus will bolster the coalition's efforts.

"The U. battle has sort of helped focus the issue. The coalition does solve the university's problem, and this is the best way for people to help the university."

Machen ran afoul of lawmakers in the 2002 general session when he refused to budge from the school's policy of banning guns despite its apparent conflict with state law.

In March, he filed a "friendly" lawsuit to force a definitive court ruling on whether the school's prohibition can withstand constitutional scrutiny.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is defending Utah's law and says institutions can't adopt policies that are in conflict with current gun laws.

He also hopes the coalition's efforts fail.

"It would be a bad law," he said. "It does nothing to protect kids. This would send a message to every maniac out there that they can come in our schools and wreak havoc without fear of anyone shooting back at them."

But Carabello and other coalition members say it should be a "no brainer" that schools and churches be allowed to outlaw guns.

"The Utah PTA is not against the right to own and bear arms; however, this is a safety issue," PTA President Susan Dayton said. "This is a position that has long come from our membership that guns do not belong in schools."

Dayton said she believes, in contrast to the sentiment that dominates the Legislature, that the majority of Utahns would agree with the coalition's position.

"This needs to be something the citizens of Utah have a chance to vote on. Unless it is on the ballot, we won't hear from them."

Dayton said the PTA has been focusing its attention on training its members to educate the public about what the initiative will accomplish.

"We have done some training to tell people what it is and what it is not," she said. "It is not an anti-gun initiative."

But one coalition critic — an outspoken state senator who has
battled the U. and its gun policy — predicted a doomed petition drive.

"The more people who understand this, the fewer people there are who are interested in this initiative. If people hear the debate, even if they do collect the signatures, it will still fail," Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said.

Waddoups conceded he, too, is against the basic premise of guns in churches and schools.

"But this initiative simply stops the law-abiding citizens, the permit holders. The criminals can still do what they want. This doesn't stop who we want to stop.",124...14580,00.html?
"That a free citizen should have to go before a committee, hat in hand, and pray for permission to bear arms - fantastic! Arm your daughter, sir, and pay no attention to petty bureaucrats." Robert Heinlein - Red Planet
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