All Over But the Shooting

A college-bound family friend recently solicited my advice in the great roommate debate. I advised her to take her chances and room with a stranger ...
by | March 20, 2007 AT 3:00 AM

Campusguns_2 A college-bound family friend recently solicited my advice in the great roommate debate. I advised her to take her chances and room with a stranger instead of playing it safe with someone from her hometown. Most universities, I assured her, make a point to match students with similar interests. Some schools, such as the University of South Carolina, have elaborate technological systems that work like online dating services, allowing students to search for roommates with similar interests, habits, and musical tastes. Facebook meets meets those lame-o campus housing surveys.

After reading this story, though, I had a sudden urge to call this friend to amend my advice to exclude all colleges and universities in the state of Utah. Thanks to the marvels of modern technology, college students around the country are now able to avoid roommates with a passion for death metal music. Meanwhile, back in Utah, students may be stuck with roommates who have a passion for hot lead and cold steel.

In September, the Utah Supreme Court struck down the university's ban on guns, which has been in place since the 1970s. The legislature passed a provision in 2004 specifically forbidding "state institutions of higher learning" from restricting the possession or use of firearms, and the high court ordered the university to obey the measure. The university filed a case in federal court but recently dropped the case after reaching an agreement with the legislature.

The university had originally hoped to talk the legislature into a highly reasonable ban on guns in residence halls, sports arenas and faculty offices. (Seems a smart idea, in light of the recent disgruntled-student scare in Missouri.)

Gun rights advocates, however, allowed the bill to pass only after it had been stripped of all measures that would have had any actual effect on students' ability to wield weapons.

The wildly compromised provision, signed by Gov. Jon Huntsman last Monday, makes it possible for students to request roommates who do not hold conceal-carry permits. Conceal-carry permit-holding students who want to exercise their Second Amendment rights are under no obligation to report their permits before bringing guns into the dorm, making the law ineffectual.

Part of the beauty of college campuses is that, even when plopped in the middle of major metropolitan areas, they remain mysteriously insulated from the rest of the world. Yes, this involves living with rules more severe than those governing greater society, but it's a price students are used to paying. Most university dorms ban all sorts of innocuous household items in the name of safety - goods that are, like guns, wholly legal elsewhere. The University of Utah forbids candles, hot plates, toaster ovens, and halogen lights, but now students will be allowed to pack heat along with their iPods and laptops.