The San Bernardino shooting and Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr.’s recent outspoken remarks encouraging his students to carry firearms and “end those Muslims” have students at other Virginia universities talking about campus carry and security.
Virginia law allows colleges to make their own decisions regarding the use and possession of firearms in campus buildings and stadiums; however, no school can prevent anyone with a legitimate permit from carrying in outdoor, public spaces.
The result of this law is a variety of weapon policies across the Commonwealth. Some schools are more lenient, like Longwood University in Farmville, Va., allowing students to store up to three firearms on campus, as long as they are registered with campus police. This is normal to sophomore Mark Graham, who said, “There’s a lot of rural area around Longwood where people can use [guns].”
Other schools, such as Radford University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech), and Shenandoah University, have much more strict guidelines. The College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, Va., prohibits students from possessing even toy guns.
The common argument for nationwide gun control is repeated by many college students, who fear that a large presence of firearms will adversely affect campus safety. This is true of Ashley Scott, a junior at Radford, who believes, “it’s fair” that students can’t carry or possess guns on campus.
“I really can’t say I would trust anyone with a gun unless I knew them really well,” Scott said. “Someone can seem perfectly fine on the outside, but no one knows what they’re thinking besides them.”
Rebecca Reynolds, a freshman in the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, also worries about her peers’ carrying guns.
“There are many people who aren’t used to having [guns] or people who don’t even know how to use them that could be carrying them around,” she said. “I personally don’t even know how to use one.”
Others argue that having a firearm on campus is a student’s right. Freshman at Shenandoah University Zack Thompson believes it’s important to have some means of self-defense.
“Punishing the majority as a result of a few irresponsible people is just wrong,” he said. “That being said, there should be restrictions such as background checks to make sure we don’t have a shootout on campus.”
Despite their student and faculty weapon policies, most Virginia universities have campus security that is armed, in case of an emergency. William and Mary freshman, Kathleen Lauer said she feels, “comforted,” that her campus police are armed.
“The possibility of a school shooter is always in the back of my head,” she said. “I would want the police to be able to protect students if it came to that.”
Shenandoah University, a small private school in Winchester, Va., is one of few universities in the Commonwealth where the campus security (known as Department of Public Safety or DPS) officers are unarmed. Freshman Katie Fairfax said, “if there were an active shooter on campus I feel like I might want DPS to be armed… We’re not really that far from D.C. and other major cities so you never know what might happen.”
Thompson agreed, saying he is bothered that campus security is unarmed. He believes armed officers would, “boost the security a bit more.” Another student who wished to remain anonymous said that, “until something bad happens at our school…I don’t think [this] will change.”
Overall, college students in Virginia are supportive of guns used as a safety precaution, but they are nervous about the misuse of firearms by their peers. Reynolds believes, “people need to be educated about weapons and the effects misuse can have on our world.” She recalled the devastating shooting that took place nearly a decade ago at Virginia Tech.
“The event [still] has a big impact on our campus,” Reynolds said. “Yes, the incident brought us closer together, but it caused a lot of distress and sadness. Carrying a weapon is a very serious thing.” Thompson concluded that, “there is no one solution to a problem like this, but we could pay closer attention to mental health and stability and do more to try to deal with those problems… [It’s] a hard puzzle to solve.”