Suit against University ban on guns dismissed

Sunday, November 29, 2015 - 7:54pm

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit that challenged the University’s campus ban on firearms.

In a state Court of Claims ruling handed down earlier this month, Judge Cynthia Stephens agreed with the University’s defense of the ban.

In particular, she drew a distinction between the University and local townships, writing that the University was not subject to state law that prohibits townships from setting gun laws, the Associated Press reported.

“The state Constitution grants the university the autonomy to promulgate its own firearms regulation," Stephens wrote.

The lawsuit, initiated by Ann Arbor resident Joshua Wade, argued that the University did not have the authority to set stricter gun-control laws for campus than those set by the state.

Currently in Michigan, certain zones, including colleges, are labeled gun-free. In effect, this means that concealed carry of weapons is not allowed, but those with a concealed carry permit can carry guns openly.

The University’s policy takes this ban a step further, banning firearms of all kinds except for military or law enforcement personnel or educational purposes. The University Board of Regents also has the ability to grant a waiver in “extraordinary circumstances,” according to the Regents Bylaws Article X, Section 4. Wade filed the lawsuit after the University denied his request for a waiver.

Wade’s attorney, Steven Dulan, had argued in court filings that the power to establish policies about guns rested with the legislature, not with colleges, according to the Detroit Free Press.

“The Michigan Constitution vests the power to legislate with the state legislature, not with the state universities,” Dulan wrote. "It is clear that the Board of Regents is powerful within the governance of the University itself, but it has no authority to attempt to usurp the legislature's constitutionally-delegated role in the state government.”

Dulan told media outlets he intended to appeal the decision.

A similar court case, filed by Michigan Gun Owners against the Ann Arbor Public Schools, was thrown out in September. However, in response to a third lawsuit about the ability of individual units of governance to step beyond state gun law, a Genesee County judge ruled differently, finding that school districts couldn’t ban individuals from carrying in schools.  

Both in court and in the legislature, the University has defended its policies about gun-free zones.

In an October interview with The Michigan Daily, Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president of government relations, said the University intended to stand firm in its decision to ban guns on campus, noting legislative attempts to modify the definition of gun-free zones.

Wilbanks said the current policy on campus banning guns is an important one, particularly in light of a bill currently in the state legislature seeking to change the way the gun-free zones work in the state.

“It’s true that years ago when the gun statutes were modified, we did work hard to get gun-free zones,” Wilbanks said. “The regents have an ordinance that is very clear: On the University of Michigan campus, there shall be no guns … Right now we will rely on our regents' ordinance to be enforced.”

Other universities in the state have taken similar stances, with several universities in Michigan, such as Lake Superior State University, banning guns on campus. Others are more permissive, allowing them in certain campus areas.

Wilbanks noted that she believed this is the best way to handle the situation — allowing each institution to set its own policies.

“All universities have a stake in this,” Wilbanks said. “Having said that, there are universities who have a slightly different approach to guns on campus. Some permit concealed weapons in the trunks of cars. Others permit students who are interested in hunting or shooting at the range to register their guns and they are provided a safe lockup for their guns while they’re on campus so that there’s a safe place for them to go. Every campus may have a slightly different approach. Ours is pretty clear. Others are clear in a slightly different way, but that actually supports our view that every campus ought to think about the ways in which the laws work best for them.”

However, open-carry activists have expressed disagreement with that position. In an August interview with the Daily, Phillip Hofmeister, a legislative assistant for Michigan Open Carry Inc., an organization promoting lawful open carry of a holstered handgun, said he supported Wade’s position because he felt gun-free zones ultimately lead to a more dangerous environment.

“We feel that places where guns are banned (by state statute or private property policy) create a criminal empowerment zone,” Hofmeister wrote in an e-mail. “These are places where criminals carry guns and can use them to harm others (as by their nature, criminals don't care about the law or private property rights), but law abiding citizens are not given the opportunity to protect themselves with their own arms.”