More on Utah State Supreme Court Striking Down University's Ban Against Guns
The university says that the ban will remain in effect, pending a federal court battle, where academic freedom arguments based on the the U.S. Constitution will be raised. Nonetheless, Friday’s ruling angered college leaders, who saw it as a terrible precedent. “This is a violation of law and common sense,” said Sheldon E. Steinbach, vice president and general counsel of the American Council on Education, which is backing the university in the case. “What’s it going to take for those representatives in Utah to understand? Will they only be moved after there has been an unfortunate incident involving a gun-slinging student?”
Utah’s attorney general, meanwhile, praised the ruling as “a victory for the rule of law,” and he was joined by Utah lawmakers in pledging to fight for the right of students and others to bring guns on campus.
Banning firearms from campuses is a widespread policy — and it doesn’t generally vary from state to state, even though states have widely differing gun laws. The dispute in Utah dates to 2001, when Mark Shurtleff, the attorney general, issued an opinion finding that the University of Utah’s gun ban violated state laws barring state or local entities from enacting restrictions on access to firearms. The university sued in federal court, charging that its academic freedom assured by the First Amendment was being violated, and also stating that Utah lawmakers had given the university considerable autonomy when they created it — enough to allow the university to set its own gun policy. . . .
Utah legislators enacted a law in 2004 prohibiting government agencies, like the university, from adopting policies that would restrict the possession of a firearm on public or private property. In a 4-to-1 ruling, the court sided with the state attorney general, who defended the law and argued that the university had no autonomy under the Utah Constitution to ignore the law.
The university asserted that the law hindered academic freedom and that its institutional autonomy under the Utah Constitution allowed it to enforce the ban.
Michael K. Young, the university's president, said on Friday in a written statement that while he is "disappointed" at the ruling, the university will now pursue the issue in the federal courts. A federal court, where the university had first presented its case, had instructed it to submit the gun ban first to the adjudication of state courts, and to notify the federal court once that litigation had run its course.
"We are primarily concerned, as we have been from Day 1, with how to keep our students safe," Mr. Young said in an interview.
In the case's first full hearing, a Utah district court held that the university's firearms policy did not contradict state law, but the attorney general appealed. Around the same time, the Utah Legislature passed a bill that said a local or state entity may not enforce a policy related to firearms unless specifically authorized by a state statute. . . .