Student sues University of Idaho over firearms ban

C.J. Ciaramella Contributor
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A University of Idaho law student is suing the school over its firearms ban, saying the policy violates his Second Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Second-year law student Aaron Tribble, 36, filed a civil suit last Tuesday, challenging a policy that doesn’t allow him to store a registered handgun in his university-owned apartment.

The policy requires all firearms be stored at a campus police substation. The University of Idaho declined to comment.

Tribble, who lives in campus housing designated for students who are married or have children, will represent himself in the suit. A hearing for the case has been set for July 20.

Opponents of campus handgun bans have been turning to legal challenges frequently in recent years, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s pro-Second Amendment rulings in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago.

Those challenges have had mixed results. The University of Colorado’s firearms ban was struck down by the state Court of Appeals in 2010, but the Virginia Supreme Court upheld George Mason University’s ban earlier this month.

Tribble’s case appears to be more subtle than most because it involves possession of a firearm in one’s home, rather than carrying in public.

UCLA law professor and constitutional scholar Eugene Volokh said the main legal question is “to what extent does the Second Amendment stop the government, acting as property owner, from restricting activity on its property that it couldn’t restrict on private property?’”

Volokh pointed to several instances where public housing bans on firearms have been scrutinized: The Oregon Attorney General released an opinion against such a ban in 1988, as did the Louisiana Attorney General in 1994. Housing authorities in Delaware and San Francisco with similar provisions have also yielded to the threat of litigation.

However, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld a public housing agency’s ban on firearms in 2004.

“It looks like when it comes to possession, even in a government-owned home, many government-officials lean toward upholding that right,” Volokh said. “But it’s by no means settled.”

How much deference courts give universities may make the difference. Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law, said Tribble had “little chance of success” because of the sensitive nature of college campuses.

“The Supreme Court – in Heller and McDonald – said that the government can regulate where guns are located, such as in preventing guns in schools,” he said. “In light of incidents like at Virginia Tech, I have no doubt that the courts will allow universities to ban or regulate guns on campuses.”

In the years following the Virginia Tech shooting, Second Amendment advocates have repeatedly pressed for repeals on campus handgun bans, saying the rules make students less safe and infringe on their right to self-defense.

States have considered legislation to do so more than 34 times, but almost all have failed in the face of heavy opposition from school administrators and gun-control groups, who say adding firearms to campuses would only lead to more accidents and violence.

One of the most vocal organizations fighting for repeals is Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, which has chapters on college campuses across the nation.

Al Baker, the Idaho director of the Students for Concealed Carry and also a third-year University of Idaho law student, spoke in support of Tribble’s lawsuit to the Associated Press:

“The simple fact that this would be a non-issue if the Tribble family happened to live in an apartment across the street illustrates how naive the university policy really is, especially considering that criminals have no regard for policies like the one at issue here,” Baker said.