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University of Missouri countersues professor in gun lawsuit

University of Missouri countersues professor in gun lawsuit

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Columns at University of Missouri

COLUMBIA, Mo. • The University of Missouri is countersuing a law school professor who has asked a court to invalidate the university’s ban on firearms.

Royce de R. Barondes’ case has the potential to redefine the limits of acceptable gun regulations under the Missouri Constitution, which voters amended in 2014 to make the right to bear arms “unalienable.”

But since his attorney filed the lawsuit in September in Cole County, the university’s team of private attorneys has moved the case to federal court and sought a court order forbidding Barondes from bringing a gun onto campus.

Jennifer Bukowsky, the attorney representing Barondes, told The Associated Press that the university’s “aggressive” approach is slowing down the case and making it more expensive.

She wants to move on to arguing the merits of Barondes’ case, she said, “but they’re making it very difficult to get to that point.”

Barondes, a tenured professor who teaches a class on firearms law and is licensed to carry a concealed weapon, claimed the university’s rules against carrying a weapon on campus violate his rights under the U.S. and state constitutions, as well as a state law that allows public employees to keep guns locked in their cars.

In their court filings, the university’s attorneys wrote that the board of curators is charged with creating a safe environment, and the rule banning guns is narrowly tailored to achieve that objective.

“The right to keep and bear arms under the federal and state constitutions is laudable, but not absolute,” they write, noting that the university includes hospitals and day cares and hosts large events.

They also note that the state’s laws on concealed weapon permits do not allow people to carry weapons into a higher education institution without the permission of the governing board.

But Republican lawmakers are considering changing that. The House is debating a measure that would allow people with a concealed carry license to take guns some places on campus. Republicans have proposed similar measures in the Senate, though they have not advanced since a January committee hearing.

Meanwhile, Bukowsky argues that for the board of curators to withhold consent violates Barondes’ civil rights.

A spokesman for the University of Missouri System declined to comment other than pointing to the rule prohibiting weapons on university property. A spokesman for the Columbia campus did not return calls requesting comment, nor did the university’s attorneys at Bryan Cave’s offices in St. Louis and Kansas City.

Courts typically have been hesitant to rewrite gun regulations from the bench, said Gregory Magarian, a professor at Washington University’s School of Law. But the caveat there is that state courts deal with different legal standards than federal courts, he said.

Bukowsky said Barondes is dropping his Second Amendment claims in an effort to bring the case back to state court

Generally speaking, Missouri’s 2014 constitutional change makes challenging a gun regulation “substantially more likely to succeed than if you were only going on the Second Amendment,” Magarian said.

Both Barondes and the university are seeking to recoup attorney fees and court costs — though Bukowsky says the possible cost of the university’s four attorneys is a daunting expense.

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