Guns in the classroom: Options for Idaho faculty

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The presidents and their faculty at Idaho's colleges and universities voiced their strong opposition, but the Idaho Legislature passed Senate Bill 1254 allowing firearms in our classrooms. The UI faculty union has hired an attorney to research the legal options for Idaho faculty, and I will now summarize his legal memo on this vital matter. See the complete document at www.idaho-aft.org/GunsCampus.pdf.

In 2008 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment right to bear arms may be limited in some instances. Specifically, the good justices stated that laws that prohibit firearms in schools and government buildings are constitutional. They also concluded that laws "imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms" may be allowed. In its passionate Second Amendment absolutism, the Idaho Legislature ignored conservatives on the highest court in the land.

Idaho Senate Bill 1254 does exclude firearms from student dormitories and public entertainment facilities of more than 1,000 seats. Other than these exceptions, however, our attorney states that the breath of this new law is "quite extraordinary." A person with an "enhanced concealed carry permit" does not actually have to conceal the weapon. Our attorney explains that a person "will be allowed to walk around campus and into classrooms with a gun in plain view, and the UI cannot regulate this in any way."

While our attorney believes that Senate Bill 1254 violates the UI's own constitutional right to administer its own affairs, he does not believe that it would be advisable for any faculty member or faculty group to sue the state of Idaho.

First, as odd as it sounds, we may not have legal standing to do so. Second, even if faculty succeed in challenging the law, the UI itself has already decided to comply with the law, and there is obviously nothing illegal or unconstitutional about its doing so.

Another legal alternative is to require that students attending Idaho's colleges and universities sign a contract stipulating that they may not bring firearms to class. In George v. University of Idaho the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that "the principal relationship between a college and its students is contractual." Our attorney, however, concedes that "not all contracts are legal or enforceable. Agreements which violate public policy or law are sometimes held to be illegal contracts."

Alternatively, Idaho faculty could argue that Senate Bill 1254 violates their own contracts with their institutions. University policy manuals are considered part of a faculty member's contract, and the UI Faculty-Staff Handbook states that the UI "will foster an academic environment conducive to the students' mental, physical, and social development and well-being" (Sec. 1320 E-1).

The handbook also requires that "certain forms of responsible conduct must be adhered to in order to ensure the physical functioning and safety or security of the [UI] community"(Sec. 2300 Art. VI, Sec. 1). Faculty members could very well argue that their contractual duties for promoting student well-being and maintaining classroom security are violated by Senate Bill 1254.

Most Idaho faculty receive an annual contract stating their salary and conditions of employment. Before signing, language such as the following could be added: "I reserve the right to control what objects and materials students may bring into the classroom."

Faculty members could also put up a sign "no weapons allowed" on their classroom doors, or they could offer an equivalent on-line course to arms-carrying students. They could also request that their classes be held in one of the large halls exempted under the new law.

As we are unsure of the success of legal action against the state, we recommend that Idaho faculty, if they so desire, follow through with some of the contractual options or non-legal strategies.

Nick Gier is president of the Idaho Federation of Teachers. He taught philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years.

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