Michigan Court of Appeals upholds ban on campus carry

Wade argued that universities have more in common with cities and local municipalities than schools, so they cannot be considered 'sensitive' places.

'I am disappointed in the ruling because the court used the broadest expansion of ‘sensitive place’ ever,' said Steve Dulan, the attorney of plaintiff Joshua Wade.

The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court decision that prohibits firearms on the University of Michigan’s campus on the basis that it is considered a “sensitive place.”

In Wade v. University of Michigan, Court of Appeals Judges Mark Cavanagh and Deborah Servitto ruled 2-0 that the government can regulate firearms at the University of Michigan because of its “sensitive place” status.

“I am disappointed in the ruling because the court used the broadest expansion of ‘sensitive place’ ever,” Steve Dulan, the attorney of plaintiff Joshua Wade, told Campus Reform. “That’s what this case is about: definitions. We are planning to appeal.”

[RELATED: New bill would arm campus police for quicker response to active shootings]

The story began about nine years ago in Ann Arbor when a “kindhearted” University of Michigan police officer told Wade not to cross the street or else he would have to arrest him for open carrying, Dulan told Campus Reform

“[Wade is] an open carrier in part because it spurs conversations about the Second Amendment,” Dulan said. “He enjoys it and he’s an activist.”

Wade told the police officer that Michigan has a preemption statute that prohibits local units of government from establishing their own limitations on the purchase, sale, or possession of firearms. The police officer responded, “We have a law. No guns on campus,” Dulan told Campus Reform.  

The police officer then explained that he would have to arrest Wade for stepping over “an invisible line that’s not marked in any way,” Dulan continued. 

Adopted in 2001, Article X prohibits carrying firearms, dangerous weapons, and knives on government and school properties. The ordinance applies to anyone “regardless of whether the individual has a concealed weapons permit or is otherwise authorized by law to possess, discharge, or use any device referenced below,” as explained by the University of Michigan.

The ordinance, however, states that a civilian can carry if they have permission from the director of the university’s Department of Public Safety.

Wade, an employee of the University of Michigan Credit Union at the time, asked the University of Michigan’s Director of Public Safety in September 2014 if he could carry his firearm on campus.  

The Chief of Police denied Wade’s request. Wade then filed a lawsuit against the University of Michigan in June 2015. 

In November 2015, the University of Michigan provided a summary explaining the legality of Article X. The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld this summary disposition in 2017. 

Subsequently, Wade’s case was elevated to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Initially, the Michigan Supreme Court granted an application for repeal, but it was later revoked while awaiting the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, a case decided in 2022.

In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional to require New York State residents to demonstrate a “special need” to carry a firearm outside of their homes, particularly in areas designated as “sensitive” by the state of New York. 

Similarly, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court allowed the government to ban firearms in “sensitive places” without providing a clear definition of what constitutes a “sensitive place.”

[RELATED: History prof: Founders’ intent of 2nd Amendment not to guarantee private gun ownership]

The Michigan Court of Appeals reconsidered the Wade v. University of Michigan case in light of the New York decision.

“Laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places are consistent with the Second Amendment,” Court of Appeal Judges Mary Cavanagh and Deborah Servitto wrote in the 14-page opinion.

Wade argued that universities have more in common with cities and local municipalities than schools, so they cannot be considered “sensitive places.” Wade also said that colleges in colonial times did not completely ban firearms. He also argued it is “highly debatable” if gun regulations enhance safety.

Dulan explained the ordinance can’t stay because of Michigan’s preemption statute, Michigan’s constitutional right to bear arms, and the Second Amendment.

“We feel that reason will prevail when it comes to defining what is a sensitive place,” Dulan told Campus Reform. “They decided the entire campus is a sensitive place. It’s a very large one, as campuses go. There is a blurry line between the city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan.” 

Dulan said that for the next appeal, they may end up at the Michigan Supreme Court.

As this story develops, additional updates are expected.

Follow Melanie Wilcox on Twitter for more stories like this.