Circuit Judge Jeff Harris on Monday rejected the arguments of the last three state attorneys general — one Democrat and two Republicans — and upheld the University of Missouri's ban on carrying concealed guns on campus.
Ruling in a case that began in 2015 with a lawsuit filed by Royce Barondes, a professor of law on the Columbia campus, Harris wrote that the rule does not violate the state constitution’s guarantee of the right to bear arms and supports the university’s compelling interests of promoting safety on its campuses.
“To reach a result based on something other than the evidence adduced at trial would be engaging in judicial activism, which the court will not do,” Harris wrote. “The court must reach a judgment based on the evidence adduced at trial, and the evidence adduced at trial supports a finding that the rule is constitutional.”
In his ruling, Harris hinted that his decision on the law may be different from his personal views.
“The question before the court is not whether the court would vote for or against the rule if the court were a member of the university’s Board of Curators,” Harris wrote.
In a trial held in August, Harris heard testimony from MU Police Chief Doug Schwandt and University of Missouri St. Louis Police Chief Dan Freet. Both testified that they would expect more violence and more suicides if concealed guns were allowed on campus and that allowing more people to carry concealed weapons could make it more difficult to identify a suspect in an active shooter situation.
The rule being challenged states that “possession of and discharge of firearms, weapons and explosives on university property including university farms is prohibited except in regularly approved programs or by university agents or employees in the line of duty.”
Harris ruled in September 2018 that the rule does not violate a state law barring prosecution of state employees for unlawful use of a weapon if they keep a firearm out of sight in a locked compartment of a car parked on state property. The ruling issued Monday addresses the question of whether it violates provisions of the state constitution enacted in 2014 that require all laws and regulations of firearms to meet a “strict scrutiny” standard to be valid.
After Barondes filed the lawsuit in Cole County, it was transferred to Boone County because that is the home of the university. In August 2016, then-Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat seeking to be governor, filed a similar lawsuit. The two cases were combined.
The newly elected attorney general, Republican Josh Hawley, continued the case, as has his successor, Eric Schmitt, a Republican who took office when Hawley won election to the U.S. Senate.
Schmitt’s office, through spokesman Chris Nuelle, declined to offer a comment on the ruling and said it was uncertain whether it would appeal.
The university, in a statement issued by the MU News Bureau, praised Harris’ decision.
“The university vigorously supports the Second Amendment, and we are pleased that the court found the firearm policy constitutional,” the statement read. “The safety of our universities is among our highest priorities; we believe the court’s decision serves the best interests of our students, staff, faculty members and others who spend time on campus. This policy has worked well for decades to support safe environments for all to learn, live and work together to carry out our higher education mission.”
Barondes did not respond Tuesday morning to an email seeking comment.
Missouri law allows people with concealed weapons permits to take them into most locations where concealed weapons are otherwise prohibited but that does not include higher education campuses. To carry a concealed weapon onto a college campus, a permit holder must have permission of the governing board, a law that was not challenged in the lawsuit.
Barondes wanted to keep a firearm in his locked vehicle, move it to the trunk when he arrives at work and wrote in court filings that he would “request permission from Defendants to carry a concealed firearm while at work but for the regulation and defendants’ failure to establish a process for receiving and granting such requests on a case-by-case basis.”
During the trial, Harris heard testimony from UM System President Mun Choi, who said the rule has been in place so long it is uncertain when it was first enacted.
The rule has served the university well, Choi said, and changing it is opposed by student, faculty and staff representative bodies.
The only testimony offered by Schmitt’s office, Harris wrote, was from Carlisle Moody, statistician and professor at University of William and Mary in Virginia, who testified about a statistical analysis of schools that do and do not allow guns on campus.
He noted that the statistics presented by Moody showed crime went up at the University of Colorado at Boulder after it allowed concealed weapons on campus. There was not a significant increase but it did show a “positive correlation” between guns and increased crime.
“Even giving Dr. Moody’s opinions their most favorable construction, they are at best inconclusive and do not provide the court with a basis for second-guessing law enforcement and finding the rule unconstitutional,” Harris wrote.