Missouri University Countersues Professor in Gun Lawsuit

The University of Missouri has filed a countersuit against a professor that has asked the court to invalidate the university’s ban on firearms, seeking to dismiss the lawsuit and recover attorneys’ fees for its four high-priced attorneys.

Last September, University of Missouri Associate Professor Royce de R. Barondes filed a lawsuit against the school seeking to overturn its policy banning firearms on campus. Barondes, a tenured professor who has taught business, corporate, and firearms law at the Columbia school since 2002, argued that the policy violated his rights under the U.S. and state constitutions, as well as a state law that allows public employees to keep guns locked in their cars.

Barondes’ case, as we have previously reported, seeks to redefine the limits of acceptable gun regulations under the Missouri Constitution, which voters amended in 2014 to make the right to bear arms “unalienable.”

His attorney originally filed the 83-page petition in the Circuit Court of Cole County, seeking permanent injunctive relief against the school’s ban as well as attorney’s fees.
Several incidents on the Missouri campus and others across the country brought the issue to the forefront. Just days before filing his lawsuit, Barondes and other faculty along with students took part in active shooter training, which he contends described them as de facto first responders while denying them the means to defend themselves.

Since the suit was filed, a 19-year-old UM student was arrested after threatening to shoot other students on social media while expressing a “deep interest” in the Umpqua Community College mass shooting in Oregon.

The university’s team of private attorneys has moved the case to federal court and sought a court order forbidding Barondes, who is licensed to carry a concealed weapon, from bringing a gun onto campus and to recover its attorneys’ fees.

Jennifer Bukowsky, the attorney representing Barondes, said the university has adopted an “aggressive” approach in trying to slow down the process and make it more difficult for them to argue the merits of the case as well as making the fight more expensive.

In their court filings, the university’s attorneys wrote that the board of curators is charged with creating a safe environment, and the rule banning guns is narrowly tailored to maintain a safe environment.

“The right to keep and bear arms under the federal and state constitutions is laudable, but not absolute,” they wrote in the counterclaim, noting that the university includes hospitals and day cares and hosts large events. “The law has long recognized reasonable exceptions to that right, including exceptions for schools and colleges. Accordingly, the University has adopted a rule prohibiting the possession of firearms on University property except in regularly approved programs or by University agents or employees in the line of duty.”

The university’s legal team also disagrees with Barondes’ argument that he is protected under state law due to a provision in Amendment 5, a measure passed by voters in last August calling for strict scrutiny on gun regulations attempting to restrict Missouri residents from exercising their right to bear arms.

They also note that the state’s laws on concealed weapon permits do not allow people to carry weapons into a higher education institution without the permission of the governing board.

But Republican lawmakers are hoping to change that. On May 5, 2016, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 656, as previously reported, that would allow full-time employees of public higher-education institutions to concealed carry a firearm on campus with a valid handgun carry permit. Governor Jay Nixon has not decided whether or not he will sign or veto the measure.

Barondes wants the case brought back to state court so he has asked his attorney to drop his Second Amendment claims, removing the federal claim at issue.

“Typically, State Courts have been hesitant to rewrite gun regulations from the bench,” said U.S. Law Shield Independent Program Attorney Deborah Alessi. “However,” she adds, “federal courts have different legal standards they deal with, so the outcome is not cut and dried.”

Alessi pointed out, “Challenging gun regulations now is more likely than not to succeed following Missouri’s 2014 constitutional change than if you were seeking change based solely on the Second Amendment.”

This case is far from over and we will continue to monitor its progress and provide updates along the way.

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