CU gun fight shouldn't cost much-- but losing could mean more than a flesh wound for regents

The top spokesman for the University of Colorado governing board says he wishes he "had a gun so I could blow off a few rounds."

That's how many media calls Ken McConnellogue, spokesman for university system Board of Regents, has received as CU aims to keep a gun ban that a state court effectively stripped in April.

But amid the political debate over whether students should be packing, he says the school's looming battle -- which he says won't financially strike the school -- has little to do with bullets and gunpowder, but rather political firepower.

"It's about the authority of our regents to govern our campus," McConnellogue says. "Secondarily, the issue of gun bans is there."

More importantly, it's about precedent for the CU board, which oversees its main hub in Boulder and campuses in Denver, Colorado Springs and the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. If CU's authority to ban guns on campus is overruled, McConnellogue says, the board's authority itself is questioned.

"Any challenge that comes and challenges the authority of the regents," he asserts, "the first thing they would say is, 'Well, they didn't even challenge this, so they don't even care about it.'

"The notion of 'Are guns or weapons on campus a good thing or a bad thing?' is certainly a pertinent and timely discussion," he adds. "But we believe that's a discussion the governing board of the university should have a say in, and not have the state impose it."

In the wake of the board's split vote to take on a state appellate court's overruling of the CU gun ban, he feels there's one question that's not being asked enough: What would losing the gun fight mean for the regents in the long term?

McConnellogue thinks those wounds could be more problematic than any gun ban.

"This is the heart of it," he says. "If this goes against us, can it be seen as eroding the authority of the regents to govern? The answer to that, to an extent I think, is yes. It does take the authority to govern the university by the regents."

Similarly, a proposed gun ban for the Colorado State University system slated to go into effect this year was later rescinded after the state court's ruling. CSU, however, has not vowed to fight for its ban.

Colorado's campus gun fight is similar to efforts going on elsewhere, including a municipal gun ban in Chicago that was overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court Monday that pro-gun rights activists lauded as a tantamount victory.

But lawyers on both sides seem to agree Colorado's gun fight should not be effected by a decision that does not explicitly seek to protect "the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings."

"We're not worried about the federal stuff," McConnellogue says. "We think it will have no effect just because what the Chicago ruling did -- it didn't say the Second Amendment works everywhere and you can have a gun wherever you want."

Still, as an article published by the Chronicle on Higher Education on Tuesday points out, Colorado colleges face a tougher battle "because they cannot point to specific authority from their state government that gives the institution or its governing board the ability to make those restrictions."

Another issue that should be emphasized is the school system's financial investment in the fight with the state -- or lack thereof, says McConnellogue.

Contrary to popular belief, McConnellogue says the school isn't shelling out additional amounts of taxpayer's and student's dollars to fund fighting for the ban. "We've got one attorney and his paralegal working on this," he says, adding that the university is routinely sued, but its standard costs for counsel apply.

"These are buried costs for us," he maintains. "We have not hired, nor will we hire outside counsel for this. Will it cost the taxpayers time and money? Well, it does. From a taxpayer, expense point-of-view, we'd be happy to not bear the cost."

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J. David McSwane
Contact: J. David McSwane