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Students at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., have successfully petitioned the college to consider lifting a ban on carrying guns on campus.
Members of Liberty’s Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, or SCCC, brought the matter before the school’s chancellor, Jerry Falwell, Jr.
“We just have a group on campus that’s been promoting that idea, and I really don’t have a good feel for whether our community would support it or not,” Falwell told The Lynchburg News & Advance. “So I just decided to take it to the board.”
Falwell, who said he has no opinion on the issue, told the newspaper that the board of trustees will consider the merits of lifting the college’s ban on allowing people with concealed weapons permits to carry guns on campus at its March 2009 meeting.
Nationally, only a handful of colleges – mostly in the Rocky Mountain states – allow students with concealed weapon permits to bring firearms on campus. A community college in Virginia is also among those that allow students to carry guns, but in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting, in which 33 people were killed by a troubled student on April 16, 2007, many in the state have debated whether armed citizens on campus could have better defended themselves during the massacre.
Ben Neiman, head of Liberty’s chapter of SCCC, however, insists responsible students have more cause to carry concealed weapons than stopping crazed gunmen.
“We realize mass attacks are something that get the headlines,” Neiman said in a WRVA-radio interview, “but it’s really the everyday problems of assaults, rapes and the occasional murders on college campuses that make the real numbers. These are the things we’re trying to prevent.
“We carry off campus for that same reason, and we really don’t think that we’ll show any less discretion [on campus],” he said.
Liberty University’s board of trustees has 38 members, including Falwell and his brother Jonathan. Falwell told the News & Advance the board may not make a final decision at its March meeting, but at the urging of the SCCC chapter’s more than 400 members, it would at least consider lifting the ban.
“I want to make sure that we look at it long and hard before we make a decision,” he said. “Between now and the board meeting, we’ll have [resident advisers] talking to students and see what they think about it.”
WSET-TV in Lynchburg asked Liberty students for their opinions on potentially lifting the ban.
“With the recent events at Virginia Tech and other schools, I think it is a great idea to allow students to carry concealed weapons,” said senior Matt Johnston. “You want to give yourself the ability to defend yourself.”
Another senior, Diane Belmont, disagreed.
“I don’t know if I would trust probably half of the students on the campus to carry a concealed weapon,” Belmont said. “I mean, we are still young and people can make rash decisions.”
Neiman said he has talked with students on both sides of the issue and has won several over when he explained concealed carry laws and how frequently people encounter gun-carrying citizens without knowing it.
Under Virginia law, a student must be at least 21 to apply for a concealed handgun permit, and the state has issued over 5,000 concealed carry permits in the Lynchburg area.
“These are people who already have their concealed carry permits, and you mingle with them in movie theaters and shopping malls around town anyways,” Neiman told the News & Advance. “We’re just all about our own safety. We realize that campuses are generally safe, but in the off chance that we are threatened, we want to be able to defend ourselves.”
A campus police officer told WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, “We all have a great deal of research to do. Certainly we want to keep this campus as safe as we can.”
The SCCC, which boasts more than 30,000 members at hundreds of college campuses across the country, has done research of its own to support its cause. The organization has tracked student gun violence at the 11 U.S. colleges that do not have bans like Liberty’s in place.
“After allowing concealed carry on campus for a combined total of more than 70 semesters,” reads the SCCC website, “none of these 11 schools have seen a single resulting incident of gun violence, a single gun accident or a single gun theft.”
An editorial from the News & Andvance, nonetheless, opposes lifting the ban.
“The addition of more guns on college campuses – even those that are carried legally – would only add to the unsafe conditions created by the presence of guns,” the editorial states. “It is not likely that the state wants to create armed fortresses in college dormitories and classrooms.”
The editorial concludes, “If campus security is a concern, as the SCCC members have indicated it is, Liberty should hire more police with firearms to protect the students and faculty. That would be far more prudent than allowing students and others with permits to carry firearms to class.”