The Michigan Court of Appeals has upheld the University of Michigan's campus gun ban, ruling that because the university is considered a school it is exempt from Second Amendment mandates and able to develop its own firearms policies.
The decision — written by appellate Judge Mark Cavanagh and joined by Judge Deborah Servitto — marks the second time a Court of Appeals panel has ruled in the case filed by Ann Arbor resident Joshua Wade. A third judge on the panel, Judge David Sawyer, retired in December and did not weigh in on the ultimate decision.
The Michigan Supreme Court in November remanded the case to the appellate court against after a June 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling touching on gun rights.
The ordinance Wade challenged at UM banned possession of a firearm, knife, sword or machete on property owned or leased by the University of Michigan, even if that individual has a concealed carry permit. An exception was made for law enforcement officers.
Wade filed suit after his request for a waiver was denied, arguing the policy violated his Second Amendment rights and was preempted by a state law that barred local governments from passing limitations on firearms.
The university argued the Second Amendment didn't apply to "sensitive places" like schools and that the university wasn't bound by the state law barring local firearms ordinances. The Court of Appeals in 2017 agreed.
Wade appealed up to the Michigan Supreme Court, which initially granted an application to appeal, but then rescinded it in light of a U.S. Supreme Court decision called Bruen that struck down New York's licensing requirement for members of the public who wished to carry of handguns for self-defense.
The Michigan Supreme Court ordered the Court of Appeals to reconsider the case in light of the Bruen decision, which ruled courts must consider the nation's "historical tradition of firearm regulation" when deciding on the constitutionality of a restriction after considering whether the location at issue was a "sensitive place" such as a school.
Wade refiled in the Court of Appeals, arguing the that the Legislature "has distinguished between schools and universities, and a large university has more in common with a city than a school; therefore, the university cannot be considered a 'school' for purposes of identifying it as a 'sensitive place."
"City-wide regulations are unconstitutional," Wade argued, according to the opinion. "The university's property does not merely abut other properties, but is intertwined with the city of Ann Arbor."
Wade also argued there was no historical precedent for UM's ban and that guns could be considered a public safety measure instead of a threat.
UM maintained it should be treated as a "school" exempt from the Second Amendment and that history "shows a longstanding tradition of firearm prohibitions at colleges and universities." Even if that weren't the case, UM argued, times have changed.
"Mass shootings in schools were unknown to the founders or at the time of reconstruction," UM argued, according to the opinion. "Technological changes have also increased the lethal capacity of firearms."
The Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that universities "at all potentially relevant time periods" are schools and considered sensitive places.
The panel did not wade into the history or whether guns could be considered a public safety measure, noting it was "a matter of debate" that wasn't necessary to resolve because the university was considered a school.
"...because the university is a school, and thus a sensitive place, it is up to the policy-maker — the university in this case — to determine how to address that public safety concern," the panel wrote.
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