The Colorado Supreme Court recently overturned the gun ban at state universities for concealed carry permit holders. In response, University of Colorado administrators, led by Chancelor Phil DiStefano, now wants the CU Regents to circumvent the Court by implementing a contractual clause in housing contracts which would forbid guns within any of the campus residence halls.
Normally, such a contractual waiver of rights might be acceptable to the courts – if it was truly voluntary. In this case, however, it is difficult to see how such a clause could be voluntary when CU requires its freshmen to live on campus for a year. Thus, for first-year students, the supposed contractual waiver effectively becomes an imposed regulation.
This would be an extraordinarily foolish policy to attempt. Forcing students to waive their Second Amendment rights in order to comply with campus housing requirements would effectively escalate CU’s dispute with the Colorado constitution into a full blown conflict with the Constitution of the United States and earn the ire of the U.S. Supreme Court.
In District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the Supreme Court of the United States declared that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects an individual’s fundamental right to own and keep a firearm -specifically within his home. Further, any law or regulation requiring guns to be stored at home in a locked container, trigger locked, or disassembled will violate Second Amendment rights. Because CU requires its freshmen to live in the campus residence halls for a year, these halls effectively become the students’ homes and CU must respect the rights articulated in the Heller case. CU cannot force students to waive fundamental rights. Any attempt to do so will only result in massively expensive and ultimately doomed litigation which the cash strapped universities can ill afford.
If CU truly wanted to ban guns in campus residence halls, it has only two options. First, it could abolish its residence hall requirement for freshmen, thus giving students a true choice as to where to live and whether to waive their Second Amendment rights. Otherwise, it could choose to provide armed guards and security checkpoints at the entrances to each residence hall to provide the protection that would otherwise come from being armed. Though both of these options would at least give the university a plausible justification for a policy banning guns in residence halls, they are by no means certain to withstand scrutiny under the Heller rule. The courts do tend to take a dim view of those who try to squash fundamental rights. It also seems especially inappropriate when coming from universities – the very institutions that best articulated and steadfastly championed human rights since the Enlightenment.
CU and other universities would be wise to embrace that lauded tradition and cease their opposition to the basic rights of our citizenry. Thus, instead of attempting to thwart the Second Amendment, universities might even profit by requiring firearms training and safety classes for campus residents to promote both safety and good citizenship. That would not only respect the rights of their students, it would teach them how to responsibly exercise those rights. After all, is that not one of the primary purposes of a Classical Liberal education?
Julian Dunraven is a corporate transactional lawyer and adjunct professor of Law and Criminal Justice at Everest College.