Key Points:

  • The Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld a narrow portion of section 110.010.B.4(a) of the University of Missouri System Rules and Regulations that prohibits employees or students from possessing or discharging firearms, weapons, and explosives on University property.
  • However, the University cannot prohibit employees from possessing a firearm that is not visible inside a locked vehicle parked on University property, because it conflicts with and is preempted by section 571.030.6 of the Missouri Revised Statutes.

On February 2, 2021, the Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals issued an opinion in the matter of State ex rel. Schmitt v. Choi. The appeal involved a challenge by the State of Missouri to a portion of section 110.010.B.4(a) of the University of Missouri System Rules and Regulations (the “Rule”) which prohibits University employees from possessing firearms inside their vehicles on the university campus. The court held that while part of the Rule is expressly preempted by section 571.030.6, the remainder of the Rule is narrowly tailored to achieve the compelling governmental interest of promoting safety and reducing crime.

The motion for the Western District to rehear the case or transfer of the case to the Missouri Supreme Court was denied on March 2, 2021.

Overview

In 2015, a University of Missouri employee named Royce Barondes filed a petition for declaratory and injunctive relief against the University in state court, challenging the Rule. The Rule reads, in relevant part: “The possession of . . . firearms . . . on University property . . . is prohibited except in regularly approved programs or by University agents or employees in the line of duty.” The State intervened in Barondes’ action and filed a parallel action in its own name, alleging statutory preemption and that the Rule violates section 571.030.6 of the Revised Missouri Statutes, and further challenging the constitutionality of the Rule. Barondes’ suit settled, and the State’s suit proceeded to a bench trial.

The lower court found the Rule does not conflict with section 571.030.6 and that the Rule survives strict scrutiny review and is therefore constitutional.

The State appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in finding the Rule was not preempted by section 571.030.6, which states: “Notwithstanding any provision of this section to the contrary, the state shall not prohibit any state employee from having a firearm in the employee’s vehicle on the state’s property provided that the vehicle is locked and the firearm is not visible . . .”

The court agreed with the State, finding that section 571.030.6 preempted, and was directly in conflict with, the Rule. The court found that “to the extent the rule prohibits state employees from having a firearm that is not visible in the employee’s locked vehicle on state’s property while the employee is conducting activities within the scope of his or her employment, the Rule is in conflict with section 571.030.6 and is therefore void.” The court’s holding on this issue is narrow, and the court was careful to draw a line which stated that the preemption does not extend to the remainder of the Rule prohibiting on campus the possession of weapons and explosives, and the discharge of firearms, weapons, and explosives.

Having found only a portion of the Rule expressly preempted by section 571.030.6, the court proceeded to a strict scrutiny analysis and found that the rest of the Rule as it relates to the possession and discharge of firearms, weapons, and explosives on campus survives strict scrutiny and is thus constitutional.

In applying strict scrutiny, the court cited a 2015 Missouri Supreme Court case, Dotson v. Kander, which emphasized that “the addition of strict scrutiny to the [state] constitution does not mean that laws regulating the right to bear arms are presumptively invalid.” The Court added that the right to bear arms is not an unlimited right; there are “longstanding prohibitions” on possessing firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings.

Notably, the State had conceded that the University had a compelling governmental interest in ensuring public safety and reducing firearm-related crime. Relying on the testimony of two police chiefs and statistical evidence, the court disagreed with the State’s assertion that the Rule was not narrowly tailored to advance that interest.

What this means to you

The practical effect of this ruling is that state employers may continue to regulate employees’ possession and discharge of firearms, weapons, and explosives on state-owned property. However, these regulations cannot extend to the following:

  • prohibiting the possession of firearms,
  • which are not visible,
  • inside a locked car,
  • on state-owned property,
  • while conducting activities within the scope of employment.

Contact us

If you have questions regarding compliance recommendations, contact Terry Potter, Dom Peterson or your Husch Blackwell attorney.