(Reuters) - The University of Colorado overstepped its authority when the school's board of regents imposed a ban on the carrying of concealed weapons at its four campuses, the state's Supreme Court ruled on Monday.
In overturning the policy, the court said that a concealed -carry law passed by the state legislature trumped the school's ban because it did not carve out an exception for the state's flagship university.
"We hold that the (concealed carry law's) comprehensive statewide purpose, broad language, and narrow exclusions show that the General Assembly intended to divest the Board of Regents of its authority to regulate concealed handgun possession on campus," the ruling said.
"This is a victory for gun rights as well as civil rights," said James Manley, an attorney with the Mountain States Legal Foundation that sued on behalf of three students who challenged the ban.
"The University of Colorado has to follow state law and the regents can't ignore that."
Ken McConnellogue, spokesman for the university, said the regents believed as an elected body they had the legal right to set security policy at their campuses.
"We're disappointed that the state supreme court has taken away what the university believed was its statutory and constitutional authority to provide for the safety of our students, faculty, staff and visitors," he said.
Currently, 22 states ban the carrying of concealed weapons on college campuses, and Utah is the only state that explicitly forbids the banning of concealed weapons at its 10 public colleges and universities, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) web site.
Last year, the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned the state university system's ban on carrying guns on campus, the conference said.
Additionally, Wisconsin law allows concealed weapons on college campuses, but schools can forbid weapons inside its buildings if signs are posted outside each facility saying weapons are prohibited.
The Colorado case stemmed from three students with valid concealed-carry permits who sued in 2008 after university police denied them permission to carry their weapons on campus.
The students lost at the trial court level, but the ruling was overturned by the Colorado Court of Appeals. The university appealed that ruling, setting the stage for a review by the state's highest court.
McConnellogue said the regents would meet with the university's legal counsel to decide how to comply with the ruling while maintaining security on campus.
He said it is unclear how the ruling will affect other university properties such as the university's football stadium in Boulder and its hospital in suburban Denver.