COLUMBIA, Mo. - A Boone County judge ruled Wednesday that the University of Missouri’s prohibition of guns on campus does not conflict with state statute, but that claims the rule violates the state constitution deserve further scrutiny.
Circuit Judge Jeff Harris rejected the university’s argument that the case should be dismissed “without engaging in strict scrutiny or another level of constitutional analysis” of the UM Board of Curators’ rule barring guns on campus. Law professor Royce Barondes brought the suit against the curators in 2015, claiming the rule against guns on campus violates both a constitutional amendment voters approved in 2014 that enshrined a right to bear arms into the state constitution and a statute allowing state employees to have guns concealed in their vehicles while parked on state property.
The Missouri Attorney General’s Office under former Attorney General Chris Koster filed a companion suit supporting Bardones’ claims, and the court combined the two lawsuits. Harris heard arguments in the case in July.
Harris ruled that the university’s arguments claiming that two 19th century court cases establishing the state’s right to regulate possession of firearms in certain “sensitive” places applied to the case were not convincing.
Harris found that the university’s prohibition is not invalidated by the statute allowing state employees to have concealed guns in vehicles on state property. He cited the “plain language” of the statute, which includes the clause “Notwithstanding any sections of this provision to the contrary.”
The statute, Harris wrote, addresses “what conduct constitutes the unlawful use of weapons, and not what the University can regulate on its property as a civil matter.”
“In concluding that the Rule does not conflict with the statute, the Court simply cannot ignore the plain language and meaning of the ‘notwithstanding’ clause,” Harris wrote.
However, he also noted in rejecting the university’s request to dismiss the claim that the constitutional amendment passed in 2014 states that restrictions on gun rights “shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”
Harris wrote that a bench trial will be held on the claims that the curators’ rule violates the state constitution.
Eddie Greim, the attorney representing Barondes, said their argument is based on the state constitution giving state employees the right to conceal and carry on campus. He said the state statute also applies.
"There is a statute which is one level below the constitution," he said. "It specifically allows state employees to keep guns locked in their cars."
Greim said he disagrees with Harris' ruling.
"What he did we think is wrong," he said. "However, ultimately the constitution protects the rights of employees, state employees, like Professor Barondes."
University spokesman Christian Basi said UM is pleased with the ruling on the state statute and preparing for the trial on the constitutional question.
Students who talked to ABC 17 News said they support the gun ban.
"I do believe people do have the right to own a gun but on campus it becomes a different story," said MU law student Chase Feaster.
Sophomore Elliot Denard said guns do not belong on campus.
"I know whoever is yielding the gun may have a license or permit, there's just other people here who aren't trained in that situation," Denard said. "I believe on campus it's just best for students and professors to not have them."