Michigan appeals court okays campus carry ban, but Republican lawmakers have a backup plan

AP Photo/Martha Irvine

The University of Michigan’s ban on concealed carry across its sprawling campus in East Lansing doesn’t violate the Second Amendment rights of a concealed carry holder who sued over the prohibition, according to a panel on the state’s Court of Appeals. In a decision handed down on Thursday two of the three judges who heard the case rejected the arguments from Joshua Wade and his attorneys that the university’s designation as a “sensitive place” off-limits to lawful carrying doesn’t fit within the text, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment, ruling instead that since “schools” have been noted by the Supreme Court as one of the few places where guns can be prohibited, the university’s “gun-free zones” pose no constitutional issue.

Wade’s attorneys argued that the Michigan Legislature had distinguished between schools and universities and determined that a large university has more in common with a city than a school and therefore, UM shouldn’t be considered a “school” for the purposes of identifying it as a “sensitive place.”
On Friday, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed its earlier opinion, concluding that while Wade was within his Second Amendment rights to carry, UM “is a school, and thus, a sensitive place.”
“Article X is constitutionally permissible because laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places are consistent with the Second Amendment,” Court of Appeals Judges Mark Cavanaugh and Deborah Servitto said in a written opinion.
While it’s obviously true that colleges and universities are schools, they’re also homes in many cases. More importantly, at least in this case, a lot of bigger universities may not have easily defined borders, with “gun-free” buildings and campus property adjacent to non-campus settings where firearms are allowed, which makes it difficult if not impossible for gun owners who want to remain on the right side of the law to know where they can and can’t carry. Wade and his attorneys were willing to concede that there might well be portions of the University of Michigan campus that are indeed “sensitive places”, but that designation cannot and should not apply to the entire campus at large.
In its opinion, the appeals court that while Wade possesses the right bear arms in self-defense, every inch of the U of M campus can remain “gun free” by policy.
Following the analytical framework set forth in Bruen, we first conclude that plaintiff’s conduct is presumptively protected by the Second Amendment. Second, we conclude that the University is a school, and thus, a sensitive place. Therefore, Article X is constitutionally permissible because laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places are consistent with the Second Amendment.
In other words, Article X does not violate the Second Amendment. Accordingly, the trial court properly granted the University’s motion for summary disposition. We acknowledge that the parties, as well as the amici, present numerous policy arguments both in support of and against Article X. In brief, the University argues that, in addition to public safety concerns, the presence of firearms works against its important goals of protecting First Amendment freedoms and the free flow of information. The Michigan Attorney General argues that: courts should not interfere with state and local decisions; university students believe learning is hampered if firearms are permitted on campus; and the University would be an outlier among colleges and universities if its ordinance were struck down. Brady argues that Article X protects speech and the free exchange of ideas and furthers the University’s core educational goals. Giffords similarly argue that guns on campuses chill speech, impede learning, and pose unique safety risks. Further, there is no evidence that the presence of guns would decrease mass shootings. Plaintiff, however, argues that guns increase public safety. He further argues that the concerns regarding violence, suicide, and alcohol abuse may relate to students, but not to him, and the free flow of information is not a concern at the places of his proposed conduct. GOA similarly argues that Article X is far too broad, potentially affecting more than 88,000 people and effectively operating as a city-wide ban, which is impermissible. Clearly, the efficacy of gun bans as a public safety measure is a matter of debate. However, because the University is a school, and thus a sensitive place, it is up to the policy-maker—the University in this case—to determine how to address that public safety concern.
Wade can always appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, but honestly I think he’s going to face an uphill fight in the state’s high court. Whether or not the university should prohibit concealed carry, and just how well that works to prevent crime are two very different questions, but those aren’t at the heart of the lawsuit. Michiganders know damn well that a designation as a “gun-free zone” doesn’t stop committed killers from walking on campus and murdering students in cold blood; it only prevents lawful gun owners from defending themselves and others. But with the U.S. Supreme Court giving the green light to prohibiting concealed carry in all “schools and government buildings,” I suspect that the Michigan Supreme Court has all the evidence it needs to uphold the ban going forward.
The truth is that even with Bruen in place we’re going to see a lot of bad laws upheld as constitutional, which is why we can’t just count on the courts to get rid of every infringement or dangerous policy out there. Gun owners still need to fight in the court of public opinion as well as working to make Congress and our state legislatures bodies that will protect our right to self-defense instead of obliterating it in the name of public safety. Michigan Republicans have introduced a bill that would repeal the carry bans in place at the state’s public universities, but it’s going to take winning back control of the statehouse next year before the legislation has any chance of becoming law. While Wade’s legal battle may continue on to the state Supreme Court, gun owners across the state need to be working to elect candidates that will remove this untenable prohibition and restore the right of self-defense to students, staff, and visitors to university campuses.