WASHINGTON -- At Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., students cannot watch R-rated movies, participate in unauthorized protests, attend a dance or use profane language. Soon, however, they will be allowed to carry a concealed gun on campus.
Last week, Liberty's Board of Trustees announced its decision to reverse the school's longstanding weapons ban. Students, faculty and staff with a Virgina concealed carry permit will be able to keep their guns in their car and carry them on campus grounds. Some faculty and staff will also be granted permission to bring firearms into university buildings.
Liberty, which was founded in 1971 by the late, famed televangelist Jerry Falwell, has some of the strictest campus policies in the nation. Students at the evangelical Christian college must agree to a code of conduct, known as "The Liberty Way," which outlines appropriate behavior on campus.
Previously, the unauthorized possession of weapons on campus was designated as a maximum campus offense. Violators faced a $500 fine, 30 hours of community service, and possible expulsion. Offenses at the same punishment level include involvement in witchcraft, consumption of alcoholic beverages and abortion.
The university's board touted the new policy as a way to keep students safe on campus, stating that it could help prevent incidents like the 2007 shooting at Virgina Tech University that left 33 students dead.
"It adds to the security and safety of the campus and it's a good thing," university chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. said last week. "If something -- God forbid -- ever happened like what happened at Virginia Tech, there would be more than just our police officers who would be able to deal with it."
Liberty's announcement may be the beginning of a trend towards more lenient gun policies in Virginia universities. In July, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued an advisory opinion that stated that universities must pass a state regulation, as opposed to a simple school policy, in order to legally bar students from bringing guns on campus. Cuccinelli's opinion has yet to be tested by courts, but could have deep implications for campus gun policies in the future.
Many gun control advocates fear that allowing students to carry concealed weapons would make campuses markedly less safe.
"Any time you have loaded guns carried on campus, it could be a very dangerous situation," Brian Malte, director of mobilization at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said.
Malte pointed out that law enforcement officials go through continuous training to learn when and when not to shoot, while in Virginia, concealed carry permit holders only complete a one-time firearms training course.
"With Virginia's lax standards for getting a concealed carry permit, expecting someone on campus in a very tense situation to make the right decision is a fallacy," he said.
Liberty University did not return a request for comment.
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