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Change comes from incremental lawsuits, gun-rights advocate says

By Mary Mogan Edwards The Columbus Dispatch Published: May 22, 2017 6:56 PM

The new state law that gives colleges and universities the option to allow concealed weapons on their campuses hasn't caused many Ohio schools to change their policies. Most still ban firearms. property.

But an advocate for gun rights says such change comes incrementally, and he is asking a court to strike down Ohio State University policies that he says limit possession of handguns even in locked vehicles.

The lawsuit was filed in November in Marion County by Mike Newbern, an OSU main-campus student and a former instructor at the Marion campus, along with two gun-rights groups. Newbern, who has a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering and plans to take graduate classes at the Marion campus in the fall, holds a conceal-carry license. He doesn't want to have to leave his gun at home when he travels to and from campus.

"For me personally, living in Delaware, I'm disarmed when I'm traveling to and from Marion," Newbern said. If he kept his gun in his car, he said, "I face potential expulsion and never being able to work in the university again."

The suit contends that state law doesn't allow state universities to ban storage of guns in vehicles. It says the university unlawfully imposes such a ban in three places: its student code of conduct, rules for employees and policies for recreational sports programs.

Ohio State said it does not ban guns in vehicles for employees. Beyond that, a university statement said its policies comply with state law. A spokesman said that, because of the lawsuit, he could not say whether the university permits students or visitors to store guns in their vehicles.

The university sought to have Newbern's suit dismissed, but Marion County Common Pleas Judge Jim Slagle ruled May 5 that it can proceed.

Plaintiffs also include the Students for Concealed Carry Foundation and Ohioans for Concealed Carry.

In December, a lame-duck General Assembly passed and Gov. John Kasich signed a law lifting a longstanding statewide ban on carrying concealed guns at colleges, day-care centers and airports, but left it up to college boards of trustees whether to actually allow them. Only one has done so.

On Dec. 5, as lawmakers were considering what some called the "guns-everywhere bill," a group of about 15 gun-rights advocates walked through Ohio State's campus openly carrying a variety of firearms. They called it a "No More Sitting Ducks" walk and argued that the previous week's car-and-knife attack by student Abdul Razak Ali Artan showed the value of allowing lawful possessors of guns to carry them on campus.

Artan injured several people on a crowded plaza before a university police officer shot and killed him.

Michael R. Moran, an attorney who is representing Newbern along with attorney Derek A. DeBrosse, who filed the suit, said legal challenges like this will go on for decades as part of the fallout of the 2008 Heller case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that the Second Amendment guarantees people the right to possess firearms whether or not they serve in a militia. "It's incremental," Moran said. "That's how these rights are asserted."

Among Second Amendment attorneys at the time of the Heller ruling, he said, "We joked that there'd be 50 years of litigation."

Cedarville University, a private, Baptist school in Greene County, recently became the first Ohio college to allow concealed carry. Starting Aug. 1, full-time employees with valid Ohio conceal-carry licenses can apply for a permit to carry on the campus. The school will work out an application process and required training over the summer, said Janice Supplee, vice-president of marketing and communication for Cedarville.

After the enabling law passed in December, Cedarville took time to consider the issue, with two surveys of the campus and town-hall meetings, Supplee said. "The survey results surprised me," she said. "Ninety-two percent were supportive of some type of conceal-carry."

Cedarville officials see the move as "one more layer of protection" on an already-safe campus, said Doug Chisholm, who heads Cedarville's private, armed security force. They'll stress to permit holders that "They're not considered a part of any kind of response team." Permit holders will be told that, should an emergency situation develop, "They have to realize they'd better not be standing there with a gun, or they could be mistaken for a perpetrator."

Supplee said Cedarville's surveys didn't show support for students or visitors carrying concealed weapons.

At Ohio University, faculty and students considered the matter in January. The Faculty Senate voted to oppose allowing conceal-carry, and the Student Senate held a referendum allowing students at the main and branch campuses to vote for or against the idea. Although students at all five of the regional campuses voted in favor of conceal-carry, votes at the much-larger Athens campus held sway and students overall opposed it 65 percent to 35 percent.

OU's trustees have taken no action on conceal-carry, leaving the university's ban in place.


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