State senator says bill that could potentially ban carrying firearms on campuses will turn them into ‘kill zones’

Republican Senator Larry Liston said a bill that could ban carrying firearms, concealed or not, on university grounds will turn campuses into “kill zones” if passed at a recent state Senate meeting.

Liston, who represents El Paso County and therefore UCCS, said at the nearly five hour-long meeting on April 2 that the passing of SB 24-131, which aims to ban firearms from 19 locations, including universities, is setting up campuses for a tragic incident because students will no longer be able to protect themselves.

Senators from the Republican side of the chamber expressed their frustrations and disappointments as all of their proposed amendments on the bill were voted down. The Senate approved the third reading of the bill on April 3 with a 21-14 vote, and it will go to the House chambers now.

Liston said at the April 2 meeting that people coming in from the southern border, the Middle East and elsewhere are “plotting to do harm to our country” and that SB 24-131 will make it easier to do so.

“These people that are coming from outside our borders, they’re not going to come to the capital here, they’re going to go after the soft targets. Where are those soft targets going to be? It’s going to be at our schools and universities,” Liston said.

Democrat Senator Julie Gonzales responded to his comments about people in the Middle East. “Should this body allow itself to be driven by fear — what are we doing? Let us make sensible policy and let us stick to the bill as we proceed forward with this debate,” she said.

While he said he was wrong later, Liston stated he had not heard from any UCCS students who have been in favor of the bill, noting that no one, especially the students, wants to be unable to protect themselves.

Gonzales, who is the chair of the Judiciary Committee and who heard student testimonies about the bill at the committee hearing on March 20, responded to Liston’s comment and said his assertion was “demonstrably not the case.”

She noted the committee heard from many students, including UCCS students, who supported the bill, and the prime sponsor of the bill, Democrat Senator Sonya Jaquez Lewis, said UCCS students “came in droves” to testify in favor of the bill at the hearing.

Republican Senator Kevin Van Winkle said the decision to ban carry firearms at CU should be in the hands of the Board of Regents. Liston agreed with him, noting that the regents understand the CU campuses and what they want better than the Senate.

“The purpose of the law is not to enforce and punish, but to change norms and save lives. More guns are not and have never been the answer,” Jaquez Lewis said.

UCCS Student Body Vice President Aidan Clark was at the Senate chamber during the meeting and wrote in an email that he was in favor of the bill so long as it is what the student body wants.

Clark wrote that the bill is an important step toward better safety measures for UCCS because the campus police can’t enforce it if it is just regent policy since law enforcement can only enforce state law.

“I am disappointed that Senator Larry Liston spoke on the floor about what was best for UCCS even though he has never come to campus to hear from students or student leaders,” Clark wrote.

The House chambers will have a committee look at the bill, then take it to the House floor to propose any amendments.

Judiciary Committee narrowly passed the bill to Senate

On March 20, SB 24-131 was heard by The Colorado General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee and was passed to the Senate chamber with a vote of 3-2 on March 27.

The Colorado Senate Judiciary during testimony on March 20. Photo courtesy of the CU Independent.

UCCS Assistant Professors Arlene Bjugstad and Yiheng Yvonne Wu organized the group of people to testify at the March 20 committee hearing. They said 40 people signed up to testify for the bill and around 100 people signed up to testify against the bill before the hearing happened.

Around 20 UCCS students, faculty and parents advocated for the bill at the hearing, with many sharing how the double homicide on Feb. 16 has affected their lives.

UCCS music student Laura Stephens testified in favor of the bill and was friends with Sam Knopp, one of the Feb. 16 victims, and has found it hard to move on.

“There is not a single reason that validates the presence of weapons that incur such quick and concise violence in a space like a college dorm or a classroom,” Stephens said.

Stephens pointed out that most people who attended the hearing showed up wearing red to signify support for the bill.

Chief of Police Dewayne McCarver stated in a virtual forum on Feb. 20 that the suspect believed to be responsible for the double homicide was not carrying a legal concealed carry permit.

Another UCCS student, Evelyn Curtis, lives in the dorm directly above where Knopp lived. She testified in support of the bill, noting that although Knopp was killed with an unregistered weapon that made its way past school security measures, it could have easily been a registered weapon that was permitted in the dorms.

“Just because a weapon is registered to someone doesn’t mean someone else can’t fire it. Don’t let guns be carried into our homes,” Curtis said.

Ben Kopriva, a UCCS student majoring in mechanical engineering, is grateful he can conceal carry at UCCS and opposes the bill because it would prevent him from protecting himself, his loved ones and his community.

“Criminalizing this would cause much harm to law abiding citizens,” Kopriva said, “If this tragedy had occurred or had begun to occur when someone with a gun was in the room, it would have turned out very differently.”

Photo via Getty Images.