SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah's campus gun laws are in the spotlight after a feminist speaker canceled a speech at Utah State University once she learned the school would allow concealed firearms despite an anonymous threat to kill her and others in a mass shooting.
University officials were set to go ahead with the event with extra police after consulting with federal and state law enforcement who told them the threat was consistent with ones Anita Sarkeesian receives when she gives speeches elsewhere. The threat was later determined not to be credible.
But Sarkeesian, a well-known critic of the portrayal of women in video games, pulled out Tuesday night after learning from university officials that Utah law prohibits colleges from taking away concealed weapons from valid permit holders. Utah is the only state in the country with such a law.
"It's sort of mindboggling to me that they couldn't take efforts to make sure there were no guns in an auditorium that was threatened with guns and a mass shooting," Sarkeesian told The Associated Press. "I don't understand how they could be so cut and dry about it."
On Wednesday — as law enforcement tried to track down who made the threat — Utah State University officials defended the measures they were prepared to take for the event amid criticism from Sarkeesian.
"We feel that security would have been sufficient," spokesman Tim Vitale said.
University President Stan Albrecht said in an email to students and faculty Wednesday that investigators had found the threat wasn't credible. The university nevertheless planned to prohibit people from entering with backpacks and add officers in both uniform and plainclothes, Vitale said.
One state lawmaker who has been vocal about gun rights defended the law.
"I think she's overreacting," said Curt Oda, a Republican from the northern Utah city of Clearfield. "I hope they catch him, and I hope they throw the book at him. But as far as permit-holders, they're not the problem."
Utah is one of seven states that allow concealed carry on college campuses, along with Colorado, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Idaho and Wisconsin, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But it is the only state that has a separate law prohibiting universities from not allowing concealed weapons at events.
Democratic state lawmaker Carol Spackman Moss worried this incident may lead to other high-profile and controversial speakers declining invitations to speak at college campuses in the state. She would like to change the law that stops colleges from barring concealed weapon carriers at events, but she said a measure like that would never get anywhere in Utah's Republican-dominated Legislature.
Sarkeesian, meanwhile, said she was disappointed and frustrated that she wouldn't be able to speak and called the situation ludicrous. "It was a threat about a school shooting that used very specific statements about the types of guns — and it's unacceptable," she said.
The threat was sent Monday night via email to dozens of university staffers by a person claiming to have rifles, pistols and pipe bombs and vowing to kill feminists on campus, according to an email provided by Utah State. Investigators don't believe the threat came from any students who attend the university, which is about 80 miles north of Salt Lake City in Logan.
On Wednesday, more than 75 students protested outside where the speech would have been held. Mikaila Young, a 19-year-old junior from Idaho, said she and others are disappointed they were unable to hear from Sarkeesian about her views on how women are portrayed only as damsels in distress or background decoration in many video games.
"We all look up to Anita," said Young, who hopes to work in the video-game industry. "She's a big hero not only in the video-game industry, but in the feminist world."
Associated Press writer Brady McCombs contributed to the report.