University of Missouri goes after gun rights

  • 25 September 2017
  • NormanL
University of Missouri goes after gun rights

The leftist protests at the University of Missouri in 2015 have cost the state-run school dearly. Freshman enrollment has fallen 35 percent. The state legislature has cut funding by $22 million. Staff layoffs, and shuttered dorms -- they all add up to a university paying a steep price in large part because it's administrators refused to stand up to student (and some faculty) protestors, and their kooky demands.

One might think a school in such a decline would go out of its way to mend fences with the public, parents, and state legislators. Not so for Mizzou, which has now decided it wants to crack down on gun rights, and a state constitutional amendment protecting those rights. First, some background:

In 2014, Missourians voted 61% to 39% to amend the state constitution to provide for “strict scrutiny” of firearms restrictions. The upshot is that any state restriction on firearm possession must be “narrowly tailored” to secure a “compelling state interest.”

In light of this constitutional amendment, a law professor at Mizzou, Royce Barondes, has challenged the University of Missouri’s absolute firearms ban. Professor Barondes observes that the ban forbids his bringing a gun onto campus, even if he leaves it locked in the glove compartment or trunk of his car. He is thus precluded from possessing a handgun while he’s on his way to and from work. So broad a restriction, he maintains, is not narrowly tailored to secure a compelling state interest.

The issue presented in Professor Barondes’ complaint is straightforward: The university administration believes its gun ban is consistent with the Missouri Constitution; Professor Barondes believes it isn’t. The appropriate strategy for the cash-strapped university would be to address the merits of Barondes’ non-frivolous claim, allow the court to determine who’s right, and, if unsuccessful, appeal.

The University, however, chose to fight: has asserted three meritless counterclaims against Professor Barondes and has sought attorney fees that could drive him into bankruptcy.

First, the administration counters that the university’s gun ban complies with the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, Professor Barondes’ lawsuit doesn’t contend otherwise; it’s based on the Missouri Constitution alone.

The university says its counterclaim is appropriate because Professor Barondes has stated outside his pending lawsuit that the university’s gun ban violates the Second Amendment. But it’s absurd—and chilling—to think that a university could force a professor to defend a declaratory judgment lawsuit just because he has somewhere endorsed a legal position with which the university disagrees.

Next, the university countersued for a judicial declaration that its gun ban complies with the Missouri Constitution. That claim is improper because it’s entirely unnecessary: In resolving Professor Barondes’ claim that the rule violates the Missouri Constitution, the court will obviously have to decide whether the rule instead complies with the Missouri Constitution. Counterclaims seeking no more than the declaration, “Plaintiff loses!” are just harassment and aren’t allowed.

Third, the university sought injunctive relief—a judicial order that Professor Barondes comply with the gun ban. But Professor Barondes has never expressed an intention to violate the ban; indeed, he has insisted that he will comply with it unless it is repealed or invalidated.

To get around that inconvenient fact, the university resorted to subterfuge. In his complaint, Professor Barondes had stated that he “intends to possess a concealed firearm in his vehicle and on his person, in both cases in a lawful manner while on [University of Missouri] property, but only, in both cases, to the extent the Court grants his requested relief.” In its countersuit, the university quoted selectively from that paragraph of the complaint, accusing Professor Barondes of asserting “that he ‘intends to possess a concealed firearm in his vehicle and on his person . . . while on [University of Missouri] property.’” Cutting off the last part of the quoted sentence drastically changes the meaning of Professor Barondes’ words.

In addition to forcing Professor Barondes to defend against three spurious counterclaims, the university sued him for its attorney fees. Those fees will be tremendous, given that the university injected unnecessary complexity with its countersuit and outsourced the litigation to one of the state’s most expensive law firms (where the judge assigned to the case previously practiced law).

The message from University of Missouri officials seems clear: Do not challenge us, or we will bankrupt you. We will not allow constitutional niceties to disrupt our agenda. We cannot be expected to comply with silly rules put in place by the unwashed masses of Missouri voters.

Given the opportunity to come to a reasonable solution, Univeristy of Missouri lawyers chose to make an example of Prof. Barondes, ignore state constitutional law, and generally follow the path that has gutted the school over the last two years. There may yet be a chance for U of M lawyers to stop this. But it strongly appears they are determined to plunge a once great institution into the abyss.