Colleges find ways to foil pro-gun rulings

Policies make carrying tough

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DENVER Courts are ruling in favor of allowing those with concealed-carry permits to bring their handguns on campus, but universities are figuring out ways to keep the guns out.

Gun rights advocates recently notched major legal victories in Colorado and Oregon, with courts in both states agreeing that university policies banning firearms on campus must defer to state laws allowing permit holders to carry concealed handguns.

In response, however, university officials in Oregon and Virginia have enacted policies allowing concealed carry on campus but not in buildings, including classrooms, dormitories, event centers and dining halls.

The result is that permit holders may do little more than walk across campus with their handguns, an outcome that circumvents the intent of the court decisions, critics say.

Kurt Mueller, chief liaison for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, said the organization is considering whether to challenge the university policies in court.

“We have enormous practical concerns about this,” Mr. Mueller said. “If you’re a student, as a practical matter, what this means is you have to leave your handgun in your car. And a lot of states say you can’t leave a handgun in your car, which means you have to leave it at home.”

The Oregon Board of Higher Education lost the battle to keep its firearms ban in September, when the state Court of Appeals ruled that the state’s Concealed Carry Act took precedence over the university’s ban on firearms.

At the same time, the court ruled that the board has broad control over its property. At its March 2 meeting, the board voted to enact an Internal Policy on Firearms, which prohibits handguns in university buildings as well as at sports and entertainment events.

What’s more, the policy prevents anyone who enters into a business relationship with the state universities from carrying guns on campus property. That would include students, employees, contractors and visitors who buy tickets to university-sponsored events.

That leaves almost nobody eligible, except visitors with no financial connection to the system’s seven state universities. The board agreed to make exceptions for campus police, students in military programs such as the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, residents in non-campus housing, and those in hunting or shooting clubs.

“This new policy recognizes the need to maintain this conducive environment for students and the campus community, while recognizing legal and other requirements at the same time,” the board said in a statement.

While the strategy appears to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the concealed-carry rulings, at least one court has upheld the approach.

In January, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld George Mason University’s ban on handguns in buildings and events. However, a Virginia state law, not a university policy, prohibits the concealed carrying on campus.

Under Wisconsin’s 2011 law allowing concealed carry, universities may prohibit permit holders from bringing firearms into campus buildings or events.

The next front in the battle over concealed carry on campus is Colorado, where the state Supreme Court ruled Monday that the University of Colorado’s policy banning guns on its four campuses violated state law.

The university’s Board of Regents is expected to discuss the ruling at its meeting next week.

“This is one of the discussions that I think they would have,” university spokesman Ken McConnellogue said. “We have a ruling, now what does this mean for our campuses?”

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