UK, Kernel missed point in Mitchell case

Column by David Burnett

The Kentucky Kernel has missed the mark in its examination of UK grad student Michael Mitchell’s lawsuit against the university after Mitchell was fired for having a firearm locked in his car.

Mitchell was a responsible and exemplary employee who assisted in hundreds of surgeries during his employment at UK Hospital.

The trouble arose only when an eavesdropping bystander heard a discussion about firearms and reported an absurdly exaggerated alarm to police.

When police did not find a gun in Mitchell’s locker or on his person, Mitchell sought full cooperation with authorities, stating he had a gun locked in his car more than a mile from his workplace.

The university used his honesty against him. Police confiscated Mitchell’s firearm and he was fired. In an appalling bid to make an example of him, the college even tried to revoke his unemployment benefits.

Kentucky statutes explicitly state that no organization, public or private, can prohibit a legally armed citizen from having a firearm in a car.

It’s right there in the books. An employer can’t force an employee to be defenseless for the day just because his or her car is on their lot. The law is so strong on this point that it states any employer who tries to punish an employee for having a firearm in the car is subject to damages in a court.

Ironically, Kentucky law even allows a citizen to keep a firearm locked in the car while parked on elementary or high school property.

The Kernel and the university have both invoked the sacred cause of safety as their motivation in this case. But anyone who reads crime reports in the Kernel knows UK is hardly crime free. Since only a few dozen police officers are thinly spread over hundreds of acres of campus, there is no possible way the college can guarantee an individual’s safety.

Court precedent even holds that police have no obligation or liability to protect individuals. Does it really make sense to forbid legally armed citizens from protecting themselves, if not on campus, then during the commute to and from school?

Mitchell’s job often required him to keep late hours and make trips in the wee hours of the night. The law recognizes his right to protect himself at any time of day, but the university, despite entrusting patients’ lives to Mitchell, refuses to acknowledge his fundamental right to self-defense.

In UK’s infinite wisdom, they somehow feel the only way to enforce safety is by enforcing a defense-free campus and imposing  draconian penalties on any unwitting violator.

They fail to recognize the impracticality of imposing restrictions on legally armed citizens. Laws affect only those willing to abide by them.

Criminals, by definition, do not abide by the law. Therefore, anti-defense rules affect only those least likely to commit crimes.

Currently, at least four states allow firearms to be kept in locked cars on campuses at no cost to safety.  The few colleges that allow firearms on campus have witnessed reductions in crime.

The Kernel is quick to point out the university has the right to control its property. Legally speaking, that is true so far as their authority over employees and students and the power to punish them for violating policy.

But how much control does (should) the college have, not just over their property, but the inside of your car, which is not their property? If they can override the fundamental right to self-preservation, what about certain types of speech?

Can they control the music you listen to? Can they regulate the political stickers you display on your car? Why not ban cars altogether, since historically they pose a greater threat?

In a quote favored by Thomas Jefferson, Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria wrote, “Laws that forbid the carrying of arms … disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed one.”

So long as the college continues to put itself above the law, it will continue to offend logic and violate human rights.