Conservative courts have been known to uphold the familiar maxim, “A man’s home is his castle.” Last week the Kentucky Supreme Court extended the rule to include a man’s car. If you have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, you also have a right to keep that weapon in your car – your personal property – even if it’s parked on a college campus where firearms are forbidden.
The ruling came in the case of Michael Mitchell, a University of Kentucky graduate student who was fired from his job as an anesthesia technician at the UK Chandler Medical Center after revealing to campus police that he had a semi-automatic handgun in his vehicle. He subsequently filed a wrongful termination suit that was rejected by Fayette Circuit Court but upheld by the high court, which found the Kentucky concealed weapons law clearly allows permit holders to keep their guns in their vehicles. Universities still have the legal authority to ban the possession of concealed weapons in classrooms and dormitory rooms.
This decision drew predictable response from opposite sides of the gun-control battle. Kentucky State University President Mary Sias said she and her colleagues in higher education deplore guns on campus, including those stored in vehicles. There’s too much opportunity for tragedy, in her view. But Frankfort’s Charles Riggs, a founding member of the Kentucky Coalition to Carry Concealed, praised the court for recognizing the state legislature, when it passed the concealed weapons law in 1996, intended to affirm the individual’s right to bear arms for self-defense, as ordained by the founding fathers.
Elsewhere, arms-bearing rules are under debate in the case of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who faces a second-degree murder charge for shooting Trayvon Martin, a teenager he claims attacked him in a Florida neighborhood. Zimmerman, who had a legal permit to carry his weapon, told police the young man was acting suspiciously; he proceeded to tail Martin – against the advice of a police dispatcher. Exactly what happened when the two met in a death struggle, apparently with no witnesses around, will be critical in determining whether the citizen activist was legally defending himself under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law or criminally attacking his quarry.
It’s more complicated than if Zimmerman had shot a burglar in his own home. Except for jurisdictions where homeowners are expected to get out of an intruder’s way whenever feasible, people generally have the right to use deadly force if they reasonably believe their own lives or safety are in jeopardy. Most probably would agree it’s best to assume someone who crashes through your door in the middle of the night has unfriendly intentions.
Things get a little more dicey when gun owners pack their weapons out the door and hit the road. They have that right, but there’s a fine line between responsible gun-bearing and going out looking for trouble with a pistol in the glove compartment. Gun rights advocates point out that permit holders are required to undergo training and pass background checks. They contend armed citizens support public safety and deter crime. Skeptics question the purported benefits.
Like cellphones, proven to be both lifesavers and killers on the road, guns in cars pit user rights against the sensibilities of public safety advocates. It’s a conflict that won’t soon be resolved.