Arguments in the trial over whether the University of Missouri System’s policy banning firearms anywhere on its campuses violates the Missouri Constitution ended at the Boone County Courthouse on Thursday.
MU Police Chief Doug Schwandt started the day testifying for the defense on his views of what would happen if the policy were amended to allow firearms on campus. So far, he said, the policy has been successful.
Schwandt was testifying in a lawsuit by the state of Missouri against the UM System regarding its policy banning firearms on campus. The state argues the policy violates Article I, Section 23, of the state constitution. The issue at hand is whether to allow faculty and staff to carry firearms securely in the trunks of their cars.
The court also is taking up the constitutional question in a similar lawsuit filed against the university by MU law professor Royce Barondes, who has argued that he should be allowed to keep a gun in the trunk of his car while it’s parked on campus.
“We have enjoyed safety on our campus because we do not allow firearms,” Schwandt said. “We haven’t had to deal with that issue of people on staff being allowed to have guns. It would make it not only concerning but dangerous for our personnel.”
Schwandt has worked in law enforcement since 1976. He came to MU in 2000 as an assistant chief and became chief in 2015.
One of his biggest concerns, if the policy were to be amended, is the potential risk for firearms ending up in the hands of people who should not have them, Schwandt said.
“Guns are mostly used in criminal ways when they are stolen,” Schwandt said. “If there are stolen guns out in the community, it is a potential risk for the university.”
Despite that concern, Schwandt conceded under cross-examination that there has been only one documented incident of a gun being stolen from a vehicle on campus that he knew.
When it comes to preventing accidental discharge, Schwandt emphasized the importance of assuming that all weapons are loaded.
“We always hear people say in cases like these, ‘Oh, I didn’t know it was loaded,’” Schwandt said. “Always assume that a firearm is loaded, point in a safe direction away from you, and check the condition...that’s just common sense gun safety.”
UM System President Mun Choi also testified.
“One of our main key focuses as a university is providing safety and creating an environment for freedom of expression,” Choi said. “The fundamental right of free speech is a hallmark of a university, and we are no different.”
Choi said changing the policy could create “a chilling effect” on free expression.
Both sides declined the opportunity to give closing arguments.
Circuit Judge Jeff Harris is presiding the case. He ruled in September 2018 that the UM policy does not violate state statutes but saved the constitutional question for later.
Each side has until Sept. 30 to submit proposals for how Harris should rule and on what basis he should render that judgment. Harris is expected to rule in October.