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Police chief: UW gun ban not enforced in 'open spaces'

LARAMIE — A regulation banning firearms on the University of Wyoming’s campus, which has become the subject of a high-profile lawsuit, isn’t as restrictive as it might appear at first blush, UW Chief of Police Mike Samp said in court this week.

Guns are not allowed in campus buildings or other enclosed “facilities,” like War Memorial Stadium, but the regulation does not extend to “open spaces” on campus, he said.

The university’s regulation on firearms states that “no dangerous weapon may be stored or carried in or upon university facilities.

“Any person carrying a dangerous weapon in a University facility is required to relinquish the weapon to the UW Police Department voluntarily or upon request,” the regulation states.

However, that same regulation says that policy also applies “all use of University buildings and grounds and equipment.”

That use of the term “grounds” — defined by the regulation as all of UW’s “real property” — has led gun advocates, and their attorney in the lawsuit against UW, to assume that UW officials would not tolerate firearms anywhere on campus.

UW Police’s website also states that “tasers, firearms, or other items are prohibited from being carried on campus.”

However, Samp said this week that “from a practical enforcement standpoint,” UW Police do not seek to prevent gun-possession in open spaces since the regulation gives two conflicting rules.

Instead, police interpret the term “facilities” to be less restrictive — meaning that guns are only not allowed in buildings or other “enclosed” places, like War Memorial Stadium.

That may not have been the case prior to 2016, when a previous version of the regulation defined “facilities” as including property and grounds.

The topic was of relevance this week during a hearing in Albany County’s circuit court, where Judge Robert Castor was asked to dismiss a criminal charge of trespassing against Lyle Williams, a Uinta County man who was cited by Samp in 2018 for open-carrying a gun at the UW Conference Center during the state’s annual GOP convention.

Laramie attorney Jason Tangeman, who’s representing Williams, had argued that UW’s regulation does apply to all UW property and therefore violates the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.

A basic reading of the regulation, Tangeman said, leads to reader to assume that UW does not allow firearms on any “real property,” including the university’s vacant land across Wyoming.

In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in D.C. v. Heller that possession of firearms can be limited in “sensitive places,” like schools.

Tangeman has argued that UW’s expansion of its gun ban to all facilities, including a taxed building like the UW Conference Center that doesn’t lie within the campus core, takes an overly-broad view of the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision.

On Wednesday, Castor sent the Williams case to Albany County district court Judge Tori Kricken to have her determine whether UW’s gun ban violates state law.