Wednesday, February 27,2013
Packing heat on campus
Gun rights advocates' drive to loosen restrictions on campus
by Sam Inglot
If you’re a college student in the Lansing area and you have a concealed pistol license, there is only one campus where you can exercise that right — to some extent.
Of the two colleges and two universities in the area, three of them — Davenport University, Cooley Law School and Lansing Community College — completely ban guns on campus. At Michigan State University, you can carry concealed on campus though not in certain buildings.
In Michigan and elsewhere throughout the country, gun rights advocates are pushing for fewer gun limits on campuses.
“We seek to legalize concealed carry on college campuses for people who already have licenses,” said Reid Smith, director of Michigan Students for Concealed Carry, a chapter of the national organization that’s trying to reform Concealed Pistol Licence — CPL — laws at colleges. Smith, a 25-year-old med student at Wayne State University, has had his license for several years.
“We have nothing to say about lowering the age, or changing license requirements. But if you can carry (concealed) in a grocery store or shopping mall, you should be able to do it at a college campus.”
The group lobbies the state Legislature to draw up bills that would eliminate gun-free zones on college campuses, which — even if you are licensed to carry concealed — are limited to dorms, classrooms and sports and entertainment venues, not campus at-large. However, some campuses ban them outright, like LCC. At MSU, license holders can carry concealed on campus, but guns are banned from dorms, classrooms, entertainment venues and sports arenas.
Throughout the country, gun rights activists have been making gains in expanding gun rights on college campuses. According to The New York Times, both Mississippi and Wisconsin adopted laws allowing versions of concealed carry at state universities in 2011. In March 2012, the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously decided that the University of Colorado was violating state law by banning guns from campus.
MSU spokesman Kent Cassella said in an email that MSU decided to allow concealed carry on campus in 2009. Before that, guns were banned throughout campus.
“The narrow change to the university’s ordinance in 2009 simply aligned us with state law regarding concealed weapons,” Cassella said. “That was the reason behind the changes.”
At LCC, guns are not allowed anywhere on campus. This includes “all College owned or leased buildings and surrounding areas such as sidewalks, walkways, driveways and parking lots under the College’s ownership or control,” according to college policy. Davenport and Cooley, which are exempt from the state law as private colleges, also completely ban guns regardless of licensure.
Under MSU’s interpretation of the law, wouldn’t that leave LCC open to a lawsuit? Perhaps.
State “preemption” law forbids any “local unit of government” from applying restrictions to firearms outside of state or federal law. Michigan law states that firearms are forbidden in college classrooms and dormitories, but allows concealed carry on campuses.
Therefore, Smith and his group believe public colleges that prohibit firearms anywhere, like LCC, are preempting state law.
Steve Dulan, an attorney for the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners, believes a state Court of Appeals ruling in October involving Michigan Open Carry and the Capital Area District Library may open the doors for change at colleges that completely ban guns.
The Appeals Court ruling said CADL was a “quasi-municipal governmental agency” and therefore couldn’t have gun policies more stringent than state or federal law because of the preemption law. Dulan believes if the case stands, then preemption law could “probably” be applied to what he called “quasi-government” public colleges, like MSU and LCC — but that would be left up to litigation.
However, CADL has filed for leave to appeal with the state Supreme Court, said Phillip Hofmeister, president of Michigan Open Carry. If the case winds up before the justices, the case law will be up in the air until a decision is made.
Regardless of the CADL case, the aims of Smith and his allies may be solved through state legislation that was introduced last week.
Sen. Mike Green, R-Mayville, introduced SB213 last Wednesday. The bill would repeal all “gun-free zones” with the exception of K-12 schools, hospitals and churches, which would be able to regulate who can carry on their property on a case-by-case basis or through a blanket policy.
“It would give us everything we want,” Smith said. “It decriminalizes self defense on college campuses.”
The Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan — an advocacy group for the 15 public universities in the state, including MSU and Wayne State — are adamantly opposed to the bill.
“He wants the wild west, that’s what he wants. Guns anywhere, anytime, any place, concealed or otherwise,” Presidents Council Executive Director Michael Boulus said of Green. “This is totally counter to where the country is going right now in terms of limiting firearms and doing checks on guns. Our campuses are some of the safest places in our state and country. That can be attributed to strict policies that keep guns off campus.”