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For week ended October 03, 1999 Posted 3 Oct 1999

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LDS Church declines to join gun effort (Group Takes Aim at Guns)

Summarized by Eric Bunker

LDS Church declines to join gun effort (Group Takes Aim at Guns)
Salt Lake Tribune 28Sep99 N6
By Hilary Groutage: Salt Lake Tribune

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- In the first step of getting an issue on the November 2000 ballot, a group of Utah educators and religious leaders are passing a petition that would prohibit guns in Utah's schools and churches. The first officially required signatures were collected from the group consisting of the Utah Education Association, the Utah Parent Teacher Association, the Utah Episcopal Diocese, the Roman Catholic Diocese, Utah State Board of Regents, Utah State Board of Education and the Utah Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Though they were invited, LDS General Church Officers have chosen not to get officially involved, even after making pointed statements about guns earlier this year following the Family History Center shooting. However, various past public statements form Church leaders opposing guns in schools and churches were included in the packet of materials the group distributed.

LDS Church spokesman Dale Bills said, "Were we invited and why we weren't there? I don't know. I can't give you a why or a wherefore because I can't get to the people who know.

After this year's shooting sprees in the Triad Center (KSL offices), the LDS Family History Center and the national school shootings, Gov. Leavitt wanted to call a special legislative session on gun control, but GOP lawmakers insisted a gun-control measure lacked support in rural Utah and persuaded him not to call one.

For this citizen's initiative petition to appear on the ballot, signatures of 67,000 registered voters from 20 of Utah's 29 counties must be collected. State Office of Education spokeswoman Eileen Rencher said the group has a goal of 140,000 signatures by June 1, 2000.

Gun-rights advocates say that passage might be impossible. However, those on the other side of the fence see it differently.

"It's going to be interesting as they go out and talk to people outside of their own ilk,'' said Rob Bishop, former House Speaker and current lobbyist for the Utah Shooting Sports Council. The issue is not guns, it's control. The individuals are control freaks.''

Janalee Tobias, founder of Women Against Gun Control, agrees. Just by banning guns in schools doesn't make them go away. What this petition says to criminals is that it's OK if they have a gun and start shooting kids up because we don't have a way to fight back,'' Tobias said. "If a criminal breaks into a school, how are we going to protect the children? Throw a math book at them?''

One of the petition's advocates, Utah Education Association President Phyllis Sorensen, an elementary-school teacher, said even the idea of a teacher needing a gun to protect her students is repulsive.

"As a classroom teacher, I have no expertise in the handling of weapons. I've had the most hateful e-mail saying the blood of Utah children will be on my hands, but I would gladly give my life before pulling a weapon out of a file drawer. To say I can make school a safer place by having a gun is absolutely ridiculous and repugnant to every teacher in this state, Sorensen said.

The proposed law however would allow law enforcement officers and parents who have a concealed-carry permit to take a weapon on school property. All others caught with a gun could be subject to a class A misdemeanor citation, punishable by up to a year in jail.

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information