A Telling Gun-Control Debate on a College Campus

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posted on March 23, 2022
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A small group of Michigan students are urging their college to ignore existing law and ban guns, even on the surrounding public roads.

When Cate Dombrowski, 20, arrived at Michigan State University (MSU), she helped start Michigan State Students Against Gun Violence and, having already decided upon gun control as the solution, began searching for problems.

Michigan’s statutes generally permit campus carry as long as the carrier is not employed or enrolled at the college, and doesn’t enter any buildings. In 2009, concurrent with D.C. v. Heller (2008), MSU tweaked its gun-ban ordinance to allow for this state exception.

“This is a policy that endangers students on campus every day,” Dombrowski complained to The Detroit News. “We don’t have an issue with people owning guns [but] there are certain places where we have to decide that weapons are not necessary, and Michigan State’s campus is one of those places,” she said.

Along with Wayne State University and the University of Michigan (UM), MSU is one of three universities established by the state’s constitution. Their governing bodies are chosen in elections. Some of the officials at these colleges take that to mean they have the power to create laws regardless of the state constitution.

“They’re trying to turn the clock back to before the ordinance was changed,” says attorney Steve Dulan. “They argue that they are co-equal to other branches of government, and aren’t subject to Michigan’s preemption statute.”

Dulan is arguing a case that would challenge the police powers of these colleges to ban guns. The case is pending before the state supreme court, but both sides have paused to await the Supreme Court’s New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen ruling.

As far as Dulan knows, the college hasn’t found any problems from armed citizens that would even require a solution. If they had, they’d have already brought them up. And, according to MSU police spokesman Chris Rozman, patrolling over 5,000 acres of campus property and dozens of miles of heavily traveled public roads is unworkable.

“It would be difficult for MSU to have a complete prohibition of people who carry on campus with a concealed pistol license,” Rozman told The Detroit News. “So many people travel through campus property to get to a different destination that is not on campus property.”

Dulan says other colleges have been harsher in their enforcement. He knows of an off-duty police officer obtaining cancer treatment who was banned from the UM campus for being armed. In another case, an elderly cancer patient (whose doctor suggested she begin carrying concealed for protection) was being treated at UM when a nurse saw her carry pistol and reported her to police. She was ticketed for violation of the ordinance and prosecuted in state court. She faced 90 days in jail before the charges were dropped on humanitarian grounds.

Campus carry is not statutorily prohibited in 34 other states (besides Michigan). Eleven states have established some form of campus carry by law, with 23 other states allowing colleges to make their own rules. These rules can include prohibiting carrying, but cannot include criminal penalties for violations.

In the case of Michigan, these activist students are arguing both that adult students are too irresponsible to carry on campus (despite doing so in several other states), and yet somehow sophisticated enough to set public policy on the matter. They clearly need to do more research.

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