DURANGO, Colo. — Four Corners residents may like their guns, but perhaps not as much as a curious online news story suggests.
An article published Tuesday by the online news group Patch.com focuses on “Rocky Mountain State University at Durango,” where 9 out of 10 students carry guns in case they need to face down bears and every student “gets a dozen free boxes of ammo when they move into their dorm.”
There is no such institution in Durango, which is home to Fort Lewis College and Southwest Colorado Community College.
The Patch article discusses how Rocky Mountain State University has become a draw for gun-toting students throughout the U.S., and everyone on campus feels safe.
It quotes the dean of admissions, Parsons Wyatt, as saying, “We don't require students to have guns, but most know that being without a gun means not being able to defend yourself. I like to think our students are bright enough to realize that only a gun can keep them safe.”
Property and phone searches for a Parsons Wyatt could find no person by that name in Durango.
The article further details the 33 gun ranges on campus and 119 student organizations dedicated to gun ownership.
In comments attached to the article, Ware says the story is meant to poke fun at guns on campus.
“As many of you no doubt realize, the piece is satire,” Ware wrote. “While there is no Rocky Mountain State University at Durango, I think it would be a fine name for a school in Colorado. This piece was not meant to be news as much as it was a satirical take on a real issue — guns on college campuses.”
Ware is described on the Belmont Patch website as a humor writer, and the article is labeled as opinion.
“I can certainly understand why there was some concern over the fictional name and Vince attempted to clarify that in his comment,” Belmont Patch editor Joan S. Dentler said in an email message. “Our apologies for any misleading information in the column — it was strictly meant as satire and not intended to mislead or misinterpret.”
Dentler added an editor's note late Wednesday stating that the piece is satirical and the college's name is fictional. On Thursday, the story was removed from the website to avoid further confusion, Dentler said.
Ware's piece follows the conventions of a straight news story, and a journalism ethicist said the story does not bear the hallmarks of satire.
“I don't think that looks like satire at all,” said Kelly McBride, senior faculty for ethics at The Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla. “It looked like a straight news story to me.
“If it was intended as satire, it failed miserably.”
Writers who use satire must do so with care, McBride said.
“Satire is inherently dangerous, and bad satire almost always gets you into trouble,” she said.
Ware's article was published by the Belmont, Calif., website for Patch, an nationwide online news organization with local outlets throughout the U.S. Patch, based in New York City, typically focuses on community-specific online news for its local websites.
Other Belmont Patch stories online Wednesday were more straightforward, with headlines such as “Peanut butter recall expands” and “Feathers fly at Council meeting.” Past stories by Ware detailed his daily life in Belmont.
It's not clear why Ware's story focused on a fictional college in Durango, but Colorado colleges and universities do allow students with concealed weapons permits to carry guns on campus after a March ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court.
“It's Colorado state law that we allow people with concealed carry permits to carry weapons on campus, but besides that, weapons are not allowed on campus,” said Fort Lewis College spokesman Mitch Davis.
It is not known how many Fort Lewis College students carry concealed weapons. The college is not permitted to track that data, Davis said.
“I would suspect that we don't have many concealed carry permits among our students,” he said.
In Farmington, San Juan College prohibits the possession of firearms on campus, with the exception of law enforcement, spokeswoman Rhonda Schaefer said.
The Patch article says RMSU sits “on 560 acres with spectacular views of some of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks,” a setting not unlike that of Fort Lewis College.
Students at RMSU often encounter wildlife, according to the Patch account. “A bear is a wild animal and can't be reasoned with or stopped by a book bag,” Wyatt is quoted as saying in the Patch article. “But a student who knows how to handle a handgun properly can put that bear down with little problem.”
While bears are a recurring problem in Durango, there have been no reports of student-ursine shootouts. Wildlife experts recommend bear spray as a safer and more effective deterrent.
Concealed weapons permits in the Durango area are issued by the La Plata County Sheriff's Office. The office typically issues 75-85 new permits a year, spokesman Dan Bender said.
Fort Lewis enrolls about 100 students from the Farmington area out of 394 from New Mexico. The liberal arts college enrolled 3,836 students this fall.