GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The state Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that the University of Michigan can ban guns on its campus. It’s a decision that is sure to add fuel to the fire surrounding the intersection between gun rights and campus safety.
The appeals court was divided on the issue on whether the university can constitutionally ban guns with two of three justices saying the university was a so-called “sensitive place” where Second Amendment protections don’t apply.
But gun rights advocates reject the idea that there are any exemptions to the right to carry a firearm.
“To have an entire chunk of the state removed from an area where people are permitted to defend themselves and defend their families is pretty significant,” said Dean Greenblatt, an attorney for Michigan Open Carry. He wasn’t the attorney in this case.
Joshua Wade, who isn’t a student at Michigan but lives in Ann Arbor, said he sometimes likes to walk around campus and believes he should be able to do so with his gun.
Since 2001, the university has banned guns on campus — so Wade sued.
Friday, two of three justices said the school did not violate the Constitution or state law.
Wade’s attorneys argued that Michigan was not a traditional school, but a community of people.
That argument did not fly with two of the three judges, but Judge David Sawyer — a former Kent County prosecutor — said the ban is contrary to state law. He added the university is not exempt from state law and regulations.
“David Sawyer’s dissent is spot on,” Greenblatt said.
Dan Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of Public Universities, says all universities in Michigan ban guns on campus, although a couple up-north schools allow lockers for rifles during hunting season.
He says there is consensus by those who live, work and learn on campus, as well as law enforcement, that having guns on campus is a bad idea.
“Introducing guns on campus is completely counter to fostering an environment that is conducive to safe learning,” Hurley said.
Grand Valley State and Western Michigan universities along with Grand Rapids Community College all have bans on guns in their buildings and facilities. It’s a tradition that makes sense, according to Hurley.
“When you look at the U.S. as a whole, public university campuses are 44 times safer than society at large,” Hurley said.
But Greenblatt said the decision by the court grants the university a status that is virtually beyond the law. He says that as long as it’s seen to effect safety and learning environment, then they can do pretty much whatever they want.
“You come up with a decision that isn’t based in the law, but is based on feeling good, the feelings and the fact the regents just don’t like guns,” Greenblatt said.
“Allowing civilians to be armed on campus only serves to enflame confusion and chaos if there were an active shooter situation,” Hurley said.
Greenblatt says the decision has implications beyond guns.
“By that rationale, they could change the rules of the road. People could drive on the left side of the road when they are at the University of Michigan, they can impose the metric system, they could legalize marijuana,” Greenblatt said. “They can act in direct contravention to state law and that is disturbing.”
This case is almost certain to head to the Michigan Supreme Court and could move to the federal courts. But no matter what the judges say, this debate will continue in the court of public opinion.