Banning civilian gun possession on all university property does not violate the Second Amendment, a state appeals court has ruled.
The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled on Friday that Article X, the University of Michigan’s policy of banning guns on all university property, is legally permissible. It determined that the entire campus qualified as a “sensitive place.”
“We conclude that the University is a school, and thus, a sensitive place,” Appellate Judges Mary Cavanagh and Deborah Servitto wrote on behalf of the court. “Therefore, Article X is constitutionally permissible because laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places are consistent with the Second Amendment.”
The ruling is the latest example of the ongoing legal fight over where “gun-free zones” are permissible. After establishing a general right to carry a firearm in public for self-defense in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, the U.S. Supreme Court left the door open for restrictions on that right in loosely defined “sensitive places.” Gun-rights supporters have since been fighting to have the restrictions interpreted narrowly, while gun-control proponents have sought to expand them as broadly as possible.
The Michigan case arose when Joshua Wade, an Ann Arbor resident, sought to openly carry his legally-possessed handgun on the University of Michigan campus. He applied for a waiver from the school’s weapons policy with the University’s Department of Public Safety but was denied, prompting him to sue the school in state court in 2015. Both the state trial court and appellate court ruled against Mr. Wade, and the Michigan Supreme Court was in the process of hearing his appeal of those rulings when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its Bruen decision. The Michigan Supreme Court ordered the state court of appeals to rehear Mr. Wade’s claims under the new test established in Bruen.
Despite noting that Wade’s request to carry his firearm on campus was “presumptively protected by the Second Amendment,” the appeals court said that the decisions in Heller and Bruen presumptively treated schools as “sensitive places” where gun restrictions were not in question.
“Notably, the reference to ‘schools’ being sensitive places was first made by Justice Scalia in Heller. In discussing the ‘longstanding’ tradition of laws forbidding firearms in sensitive places such as ‘schools and government buildings,’ Justice Scalia did not define the term ‘school,’ nor did he cite or rely on any authority,” Judges Cavanagh and Servitto wrote. “Nonetheless, the plain meaning of ‘school’ when Justice Scalia used the term in 2008 similarly includes universities.”
Michigan University officials celebrated Friday’s decision.
“We are heartened to learn that the state Court of Appeals has, once again, upheld the University of Michigan’s policy that bars weapons from our campuses, with some limited exceptions,” Kim Broekhuizen, a spokesperson for the University, told The Reload.
Steve Dulan, Wade’s attorney, told The Reload he and his client are “respectfully disappointed in the opinion and are currently looking at next steps.”
The University’s weapons policy states that possessing “firearms, dangerous weapons and knives (longer than four inches) is not permitted on property owned, leased or otherwise controlled by the University of Michigan, even if you have a concealed weapons permit.” Violations of the policy are subject to a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to 60 days in jail.
Guns on college campuses have been a particular point of division between either side of the gun debate over the last several years. Twelve states currently allow permit holders to carry on college campuses and do not allow university officials to prohibit the practice, with West Virginia becoming the latest to do so earlier this year. Another 19 ban the practice outright.
UPDATE 7-26-2023 11:54 AM EASTERN: This piece has been updated to include comment from Mr. Wade’s attorney, Steve Dulan.