- - Friday, September 7, 2012

Late last month, the University of Colorado made national news with its decision to segregate students who hold concealed carry permits in their own dormitory. CU’s latest announcement on the subject — it floated a different idea in April — comes in response to its stunning defeat at the Colorado Supreme Court in March 2012. That is when a unanimous court held, “[T]he [Colorado Concealed Carry Act’s] comprehensive statewide purpose, broad language, and narrow exclusions show that the General Assembly intended to divest the [CU] Board of Regents of its authority to regulate concealed handgun possession on campus.”

The lawsuit that yielded the ruling was filed in December 2008 by a national group with 43,000 members, Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, and three members — one a woman — from CU’s Boulder, Denver and Colorado Springs campuses. In April 2009, a state district court dismissed the case, but in April 2010, a unanimous Colorado Court of Appeals reversed, holding, “Had the legislature intended to exempt [CU], it knew how to do so.” Days earlier, a television station had reported that “several people were attacked and robbed on [CU’s Denver] campus or inside their dorm rooms” and “two students were stabbed with a hatchet.” The day after the ruling, the FBI, Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education reported targeted violence on college campuses was up sharply over the past two decades.

Despite “friend of the court” assistance from several anti-gun groups that filed a brief at the Colorado Supreme Court in support of CU’s position, and notwithstanding the court’s reported liberal bent, CU lost resoundingly. Nonetheless, the litigation is not yet complete. It now returns to the El Paso County District Court for entry of judgment against CU and, if necessary, for a ruling on CU’s ability to implement its evolving regulations to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

CU clearly does not like guns, even in the possession of those who pass the rigorous requirements imposed by the Colorado Concealed Carry Act as implemented by county sheriffs across the state. Having firearms on campus, CU concluded and then argued in its briefs, “‘seriously undermines’ its academic mission, ‘threatens the tranquillity of the educational environment,’ and ‘contributes in an offensive manner to an unacceptable climate of violence.’” CU averred that it alone possesses the “constitutional and statutory power to govern the University and pass regulations designed to promote the safety of students, employees, and campus visitors.”

Ironically, CU’s words ring hollow, given criminal court proceedings regarding a former CU student who posed a real danger to himself and others. As the world knows, on July 21, a former CU student slipped unseen into a midnight showing in a crowded Aurora theater. When he emerged, 12 people lay dead or dying and 58 people were wounded. In days, the media reported that he had been under the care of a CU mental health professional. What is not known: When did CU employees learn of the danger the student posed, to whom did they convey the information, and what action, if any, did they take to protect human life?

All the facts about CU and its former student are under a gag order, but days ago, a Colorado prosecutor asserted that CU knew, not in June — when the student dropped out of school and, as a nonstudent, had his key card deactivated — but in March. Thus, CU’s apparent treatment of a threat posed by a potentially psychotic killer differed markedly from its attitude, at least prior to the March ruling, toward the nonexistent threat from students with concealed carry permits. Alas, CU has posted a notice that it will bar permit holders exercising their rights under Colorado law from any CU “concert, athletic event or performance,” the very type of venue in Aurora, Colo., that declares itself “gun-free” and did so to the deadly detriment of innocent moviegoers one terrible night in July.

William Perry Pendley is president of Mountain States Legal Foundation in Denver.