Michigan Gun Ban Upheld

Against a tide of pro-gun rulings and legislation, a state appeals court ruled 2 to 1 that the University of Michigan -- a public institution -- has the right to ban guns on campus.

June 8, 2017

A state appeals court ruled Wednesday that the University of Michigan is allowed to keep its ban on guns on campus, standing against recent court and legislative rulings elsewhere that have limited or eliminated similar bans.

An appeal to the State Supreme Court is “looking probable,” said Steven Dulan, the attorney who represented plaintiff and Ann Arbor resident Joshua Wade. He said he still has to have talks with Wade, and they have several weeks to make their final decision.

The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court's ruling, 2 to 1, dismissing Wade’s complaint against a 2001 University of Michigan ordinance prohibiting firearms on university property for students, staff and the general public. Generally, as public institutions, universities have had a hard time pushing back against gun rights for the general public, oftentimes only being able to regulate students’ possession of firearms.

In 2016, 16 statehouses considered bills dealing with loosening or changing various regulations regarding the possession of guns on campuses, in some cases considering allowing concealed carry, according to a database compiled by advocacy group the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus.

Wade had sought a waiver exempting him from the university's firearm prohibition. When that failed, he sued on Second Amendment grounds, and also on grounds that the University of Michigan was violating state law prohibiting local governments from regulating certain aspects of gun laws.

The court sided with the university, ruling that the school is a “sensitive place,” as established in 2008 U.S. Supreme Court ruling District of Columbia v. Heller, where restrictions on the Second Amendment can be legal. Additionally, the court ruled that the university is a “state-level institution” and did not fall under a state law establishing which local governments cannot regulate gun laws, since they’re defined specifically under Michigan law as “a city, village, township or county.”

“We conclude, again, that the Legislature clearly limited the reach of [the law] to firearm regulations enacted by cities, villages, townships and counties,” Judge Mark J. Cavanagh wrote for the court’s majority opinion. “The university is not similarly situated to these entities; rather, it is a state-level, not a lower level or inferior level, governmental entity.”

The court also noted the “unique character” of the university's Board of Regents, citing the rights of the university for “matters involving the university’s management and control of its institution or property.”

Dulan, Wade’s attorney, said he disagreed with the court's ruling regarding the Board of Regents, and he believes the court has given the body too much power.

“Essentially, what’s happened is the Court of Appeals has place the Board of Regents of the University of Michigan on a co-equal status with the Michigan Legislature,” he said.

Dissenting, Judge David H. Sawyer focused on the authority of the university to regulate the possession of firearms for nonstudents and the general public who, as he notes, are legally allowed to carry guns in public spaces. He argued that a gun ban shouldn’t be able to apply to parts of campus that are accessible to the general public, though he wrote he wished to “leave to another case the questions of defendant’s authority to regulate the possession of firearms by its students or employees, or in areas in which the general public are prohibited access.”

He backed up his dissent writing that the university, although not a city, village, township or county, is still pre-empted by state law in general, and therefore the gun-regulation law regarding local governments -- which specifies local governments as a “city, village, township or county,” -- shouldn’t be the basis for determining whether the University of Michigan can regulate guns on campus.

“Clearly, the decisions of our courts on this topic do not support a proposition that defendant has free rein to determine which enactments of the Legislature it chooses to follow and which it chooses to ignore,” he wrote. “Turning to the issue at hand, I do not view applying pre-emption to the issue of firearm possession as invading either the university’s educational or financial autonomy.”


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