Student may sue Evergreen State over off-campus gun ban

An Evergreen State College student is prepared to sue the school for denying him a right to carry a licensed firearm on campus or at school-sponsored off-campus events.

Steve Coffman, a rising senior at Evergreen, told Campus Reform that he has been fighting the administration since October in an effort to change the conduct code, which he argues violates his constitutional right to carry a concealed firearm on campus with a valid license.

While the college has always had a strict gun policy, Coffman said that the administration was originally considering an alteration to the conduct code that would have addressed some of the issues he raised, only to reverse its stance after the college erupted with demonstrations over the comments made by Professor Bret Weinstein.

[RELATED: VIDEO: Evergreen protesters hold admins hostage over demands]

“They passed an emergency rule explicitly banning having firearms on campus, but they put in a section where you could get written permission to carry,” Coffman told Campus Reform. “So I immediately put in for written permission and was immediately denied. I said I want to appeal and they drafted this draconian appeal process.”

The appeal procedure to the temporary 120-day emergency provision asked Coffman to submit a request for an exemption, provide a copy of a concealed pistol permit and driver's license, and sign a release form for a criminal background check.

“Review includes consultation with the Vice President of Student Affairs, Provost, or Vice President of Human Resources, depending on the requester’s relationship with the College,” the school administrator told Coffman when describing the appeal process.

“Review may also include consultation with the College’s Assistant Attorney General,” the official added. “Following this review, additional information may be requested, and a meeting may be held to discuss the request.”

“A simple verification of the validity of the concealed pistol license also demonstrates that it has not been revoked for disqualifying reasons,” Coffman observed during another email exchange with an administrator that was obtained by Campus Reform.

“At any rate, a [Washington State Patrol] background check is both redundant and an additional burden on a process already clearly intended to unduly encumber a student's constitutional rights, while still paying lip service to the idea they are being respected,” he added.

The student further maintained that he was given the impression that the revised policy would “address the inequities around civil rights currently in the conduct code.”

Coffman  argued that the Washington State constitution, especially the right to bear arms as articulated by Article 1, Section 24 of the document, offers a much more extensive protection of gun owners than the conduct code’s gun provision.

“I have, and continue to invoke Washington State law and the Washington State constitution. Both of which provide far, far greater protections than currently afforded by the federal minimums of the 2nd Amendment,” he wrote in an email to a school administrator.

On the whole, the state of Washington prohibits guns on college campuses “except for authorized university purposes, unless prior written approval has been obtained from the university chief of police, or any other person designated by the president of the university.”

The statute, however, does not mention anything about regulating guns off campus, yet Coffman says that is exactly what the school has tried to do.

In a phone interview with Campus Reform, Coffman asserted that the college is currently “refusing to do anything that would allow a student who has a concealed pistol license to carry on campus,” and won’t even permit him to carry at school-sanctioned events that take place off campus.

“I am told that even if I were to meet with an adviser off campus for a class and I am carrying, I would still be in violation of the conduct code because it’s a college sanctioned event,” he told Campus Reform. “They are going as far as to control carry off-campus.”

[RELATED: Evergreen profs asked to make 'accommodations' for protesters]

Coffman explained that he is unable to secure his firearm in his car because he takes public transportation to campus. The school’s policy, he argues, “creates an additional burden on my rights.”

“As an adult student living off campus, I often visit campus for class or related purposes as part of a larger set of activities during the day or evening,” he explained. “Due to the unique status of Evergreen in Thurston County of being state-owned, yet weapons free, I am forced to give up my constitutional rights for the entire period in which I am travelling.”

In one email chain reviewed by Campus Reform, a college administrator told Coffman that an off-campus meeting with his adviser is still considered a college sponsored activity.

“In a sense the off campus location when a faculty member is present and performing their duties is a controlled college location,” the administrator maintained.

In another email to Coffman, the school administrator clarified that prohibitions of firearms on college campuses are “presumptively lawful” in Washington.

“The rights afforded citizens under the Second Amendment are not unlimited. There is no guaranteed right to possess firearms in every place,” the official wrote. “In fact, firearms prohibitions in ‘sensitive areas,’ such schools and government buildings, are presumptively lawful.”

The student, however, pushed back on the school’s “sensitive areas” argument, telling Campus Reform in an email that it is “very weak” given that state law allows concealed carry in other, arguably even more “sensitive” areas, like the state Capitol.

“I can walk into a legislative hearing chamber carrying concealed and be perfectly fine, yet Evergreen pretends they are somehow more sensitive than our own state legislature,” Coffman sighed, adding that he will pursue litigation “if a new planned rule to address weapons on campus does not produce a satisfactory outcome.”

Evergreen State College did not return Campus Reform’s request for comment.

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