Prosecutors still pondering action in case of gun in KU dorm room

Student’s legal right to possess weapon not entirely clear

Douglas County prosecutors are still reviewing whether to file charges against a 22-year-old Kansas University student who was accused of possessing a gun inside his scholarship hall room in April.

A Lawrence attorney says the case illustrates constitutional questions because a student’s campus dorm room is considered a student’s home, where the Supreme Court has ruled it’s a fundamental right for residents to possess firearms for protection under the Second Amendment.

“It’s an area of the law that is newly developing because of Supreme Court cases,” said defense attorney Carl Folsom, who is not involved in the case. “It seems like there’s not a lot of issues in Kansas at the state level.”

Gun control advocates say the law is clear, however, and that the courts have supported banning guns at government buildings, including universities.

“Schools are sensitive places,” said Daniel Vice, senior attorney at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “The Supreme Court specifically said you can prohibit guns there.”

In the KU case, police said they were called to Battenfeld Scholarship hall, 1425 Alumni Place, by the hall director, who said she had received numerous reports that a resident had a gun in his room. Officers later made contact with the man and recovered a gun.

Folsom said the issue is interesting because many cases have established a student’s room at college is like his or her home, and in the landmark 2008 Heller case the Supreme Court ruled the right to bear arms in the Second Amendment protected an individual’s right to possess firearms for lawful purposes, including self-defense in the home. He also said he didn’t believe past challenges had yet covered the dorm room question.

But Vice said courts have found restrictions on guns at schools are presumptively lawful under the Second Amendment.

“You can see why. You have kids who are just going out on their own. There are drugs and drinking and lots of young people in confined spaces,” he said. “Having loaded guns there would be especially dangerous.”

Vice said nationally he’s heard that law enforcement officials oppose the argument in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, in which 32 people were killed and 17 were wounded, that allowing guns on campuses would help guard against campus shooters.

Folsom said a university policy against having guns in campus buildings, including in a student’s room, would be more likely to be fine. It gets more interesting, he said, if gun possession is a crime and not simply the breaking of a university rule because of past and potentially future rulings.

“My issue is when you make it a crime to do that, I would say it would probably be unconstitutional under the Heller case,” Folsom said, “but that it would be a close call for the court.”