Some University of Colorado students are questioning campus gun policies following deadly shooting in Colorado Springs

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs campus, Oct. 20, 2023.

After two victims were found dead at a University of Colorado Colorado Springs dorm on Feb. 16, some students are urging the university’s voter-elected governing body to resume discussions around its concealed carry policy. 

The university confirmed that the suspect, who was arrested on Monday, wasn’t allowed to carry a weapon in the dorms, and it remains unclear if he had lawful possession of the weapon he’s accused of using. But the shooting has stoked ongoing conversations about campus safety rules nonetheless.

Concealed carry has been allowed on all University of Colorado campuses since 2012 when Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled that campus gun bans broke state law. But that rule has been thrown into question by a bill passed in 2021, which allows local municipalities, including the governing boards of universities, to pass stricter gun laws than the state’s. 

“The Regents’ current policy encourages and supports a culture where we believe that guns are the answer, we believe that gun ownership is how we protect ourselves,” said Chase Cromwell, a student body president at CU Boulder.

Luke Smith, a senior at UCCS, has a concealed carry license and regularly brings a firearm to campus. He said he carries because he wants to be able to protect himself and others from potential threats, but he understands why other students are against the policy. 

“This week has been one that has severely shaken the student population first with the unexpected medical emergency that resulted in a death and then followed by [the dorm shooting],” Smith said. “So I think it is very natural for people to become more fearful of firearms. I completely understand that.”

Last February, students, faculty and community members spoke during public comment at a CU Board of Regents meeting, urging the board to discuss bringing back the concealed carry ban. Regents promised to discuss the issue but never returned to the subject following an April committee meeting, where board members heard from the chiefs of police on each campus. 

Board chair Callie Rennison said during those two meetings, they heard a wide variety of perspectives. 

“There's some people who feel very strongly that we should get rid of the concealed carry policy that we currently have,” Rennison said. “There are also a lot of people who feel very strongly that we should retain it, and we're continuing to hear from people.”

Rennison doesn’t expect conversations and comments to end and thinks some regents may choose to bring the issue back to the table. 

UCCS has slightly more relaxed concealed carry rules

Last week’s shooting occurred in the Crestone House, a dorm in a complex that offers apartment-style units. Current UCCS housing policy allows firearms in such units under certain circumstances. Students must be at least 21 years old, must get permission from all roommates, and must give notice to their residence hall director.

“The vast majority of dorms don't have guns, but there are certain circumstances where individuals who are of age, who have a permit, who are in a dorm specifically for older students, can and sometimes do carry guns,” Cromwell said. 

CU Regent law allows individual campuses to set their own rules around firearms. While in the past, it has traditionally meant campuses could have more relaxed laws around concealed carry, like UCCS, the 2021 law that allows local municipalities to set stricter gun laws may allow campus chancellors to have stricter rules than the CU system as a whole. 

However, that law has faced pushback from gun rights groups. While some municipalities have opted to take advantage of the law and pass stricter laws, those efforts were almost immediately challenged by lawsuits

Even if the regents or individual campuses want to explore whether to reintroduce concealed carry bans, state lawmakers may beat them to the punch. 

A bill introduced to the State Senate would ban carrying both concealed and open-carry firearms in a wide array of public spaces in Colorado, including campuses of public universities. 

“Of course, if that law is passed, the CU system will make the changes to our policies to comply with the new law. That would be the first thing that we do,” Rennison said. 

Senate Bill 131 is awaiting its first hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. It would likely face legal challenges as well.