Frankfort’s Charles Riggs, a founding member of the Kentucky Coalition to Carry Concealed, says the judicial ruling against the University of Kentucky for firing an employee for having a handgun in his glove compartment is “outstanding.”
The state Supreme Court unanimously found that while two Kentucky laws conflict on the issue, lawmakers “expressed a strong public policy” in favor of exempting a person’s vehicle from the restrictions on deadly weapons on campus.
The case came to the court after Michael Mitchell, a University of Kentucky graduate student and anesthesia technician at the UK Chandler Medical Center, was fired in 2009 after campus police found a semi-automatic handgun in his car.
Police became involved after Mitchell’s co-workers reported him for allegedly having a handgun in his locker at the hospital. No weapon was found, but Mitchell, who has a concealed weapons permit, showed officers the pistol in his car.
He sued the university for wrongful termination. Mitchell reached out to KC3 while exploring his legal options, and the group paid for his attorney, Christopher Hunt of Lexington, said Riggs, co-founder and public relations liaison at KC3.
Riggs said the court “emphatically rejected every provision of UK’s contentions.”
“What was most important was that they showed that the intent of the General Assembly in every event in which they visited this topic continued to expand upon the rights of the individual –the right to self defense and the right to bear arms,” Riggs said.
By law, universities can control the possession of deadly weapons on property under their control, and concealed weapons permit carriers can store weapons in their vehicles.
“Apparently they (UK) are incapable of understanding that the General Assembly has made it plain that if it’s in your car, it is not on someone else’s property,” Riggs said.
Justice Wil Schroeder, writing for the court in a ruling released Thursday, said the law is “clear and unambiguous.”
“It forbids a public organization, such as a university, from prohibiting the possession of a firearm in the glove compartment of a vehicle,” Schroeder wrote. “There can be no other reasonable interpretation of the statutory language.”
Justice Lisabeth Hughes Abramson, joined by Chief Justice John D. Minton, “very reluctantly” agreed with the conclusion but took issue with the court’s logic. Abramson wrote that the conflicting laws and the court’s ruling could leave universities powerless and potentially subject to lawsuits from students if it seeks to rid the parking lots of guns stored in unlocked cars.
“That result strikes me, as I am sure it will strike many parents, as an affront to common sense,” Abramson wrote. “It certainly is a radical departure from the long practice in this Commonwealth of allowing universities and other institutions of post-secondary education to decide for themselves how to best safeguard their students.”
Hunt, Mitchell’s attorney, said the ruling vindicated his client’s right to carry a weapon while still leaving the university a measure of control over acceptable areas to have a concealed weapon.
“If you wanted to protect yourself, you can’t leave your house with the firearm and go to the University of Kentucky without putting your academic career or job in jeopardy,” Hunt told The Associated Press.
“There’s still plenty of places the university says you can’t bring a firearm. We’re not talking about dorm rooms or classrooms.”
Kentucky State University President Mary Sias said she isn’t in favor of having guns on campus, even if they’re stored in vehicles.
“It’s not a good idea for our students, faculty or staff,” she said. “Things happen, people lose their cool and overreact, and unfortunately, with a gun, there’s no taking it back.
“I’m speaking personally – and I think also for my colleagues in higher education – when I say I am not in favor of having guns on campus.”
But university campuses can be dangerous, Riggs said. Reports of rapes, robberies and assaults come from around the country, and individuals deserve to defend themselves, he said.
“It would behoove these people to realize that the armed citizen is the first line of defense against this type of violence,” he said. “Armed citizens don’t commit crimes, they prevent crimes.”
Jay Blanton, a spokesman for the University of Kentucky, said school officials were reviewing the ruling but couldn’t comment “at this juncture on its impact or our course of action yet.”
The case was sent back to Fayette Circuit Court, where Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine ruled in favor of the university and upheld Mitchell’s dismissal.