Ky. Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of UK Student Who Kept Gun In His Car

Apr 26, 2012

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Students and staff members at Kentucky universities may keep guns and other deadly weapons in a car's glove compartment, but the schools may continue to regulate them elsewhere on campus, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The high court in Frankfort found that while two Kentucky laws conflict on the issue, lawmakers "expressed a strong public policy" in favor of exempting a person's vehicle from the restrictions on deadly weapons on campus.

Under Kentucky law, universities have a right to control the possession of deadly weapons on property under their control. Another law allows concealed weapons permit carriers to store the weapon in a vehicle's glove compartment.

Justice Wil Schroeder, writing for the court, said the law is "clear and unambiguous."

"It forbids a public organization, such as a university, from prohibiting the possession of a firearm in the glove compartment of a vehicle," Schroeder wrote. "There can be no other reasonable interpretation of the statutory language."

The decision came in the case of University of Kentucky graduate student and anesthesia technician Michael Mitchell, who lost his job in 2009 after campus police found a semi-automatic pistol in his car. The issue arose when other students told campus security that Mitchell had a gun in his locker on campus. Mitchell showed officers the gun in his car and was fired several days later.

Mitchell, who has a concealed weapons permit, sued the university claiming he was wrongfully fired for having the gun in his car. Mitchell has said he had the gun both in his glove compartment and in the center armrest of the car.

Justice Lisabeth Hughes Abramson, joined by Chief Justice John Minton, "very reluctantly" agreed with the conclusion, but took issue with the court's logic. Abramson wrote that the conflicting laws and the court's ruling could leave universities powerless and potentially subject to lawsuits from students if it seeks to rid the parking lots of guns stored in unlocked cars.

"That result strikes me, as I am sure it will strike many parents, as an affront to common sense," Abramson wrote. "It certainly is a radical departure from the long practice in this Commonwealth of allowing universities and other institutions of post-secondary education to decide for themselves how to best safeguard their students."

The case drew briefs from the National Rifle Association supporting Mitchell, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, seven other state universities, backing the University of Kentucky, and the Kentucky Hospital Association.

Messages left for Mitchell's attorney, Christopher Derek Hunt of Lexington, the NRA's attorney, Leslie Sanders of White House, Tenn., University of Kentucky spokesman Jay Blanton and the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, were not immediately returned Thursday.

Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine ruled in favor of the university. The high court reinstated Mitchell's suit and sent it back to Fayette Circuit Court for further proceedings.

In response to the ruling the University of Kentucky issued this statement late Thursday afternoon:

“We are very disappointed in the ruling today. Our top priority is to protect the safety of students, faculty and staff at UK. We are concerned about anything that potentially limits the options police have in safeguarding the campus. In the coming days, we will be reviewing the ruling in greater detail to determine the legal and policy options at our disposal in addressing this serious issue.” --- Joe Monroe, chief, UK Police Department