Would armed college professors deter campus violence?
Delegate Robert G. Marshall thinks so. He introduced a bill Dec. 27 that would allow full-time faculty members at public colleges and universities to carry concealed handguns on campus, as long as they possess valid Virginia concealed handgun permits.
Marshall, a Republican delegate who represents Manassas, says he introduced the bill after a George Mason University professor and a security guard told him, "Look, if one of these events happens like Virginia Tech, we don't have enough firepower to deal with it."
In 2007, mentally disturbed Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people on campus with two semiautomatic handguns. In December, a student at Radford University shot and killed a state trooper on the Tech campus before turning the gun on himself.
"Parents routinely trust college professors with the intellectual formation of their children," Marshall says. "Why wouldn't they trust them with their lives, under circumstances that may warrant that?" His bill wouldn't require faculty members to carry weapons, he notes.
It's difficult to prove that armed professors — or anyone else — would deter a campus shooter, says Andy Pelosi, executive director at Gun Free Kids. The officer who was killed at Virginia Tech was armed and trained, Pelosi notes.
There are better ways to improve security at universities, he says. "Campuses for the most part are very safe environments," he says, and if guns are introduced, "they have the potential to become unsafe."
Marshall has pitched similar bills before. But the Republican leadership sank the legislation each time, he says. This bill may get more discussion at the next General Assembly session, which begins Jan. 11.
In July, Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli issued an official opinion saying the University of Virginia's policy prohibiting firearms on campus didn't apply to people with concealed-carry permits. In 2006 the Attorney General's Office said public universities may prohibit students and employees, but not the general public, from carrying concealed weapons on campus.
Guns on campus have become a hot issue at Virginia Commonwealth University, which saw a pro-gun rally and anti-concealed carry counterprotest Dec. 2.
VCU bans any "member of the University community" from possessing any firearm or other weapon on campus, "regardless of whether a license to possess the same has been issued, without the written authorization of the president of the University." The restriction exempts those lawfully required to carry firearms, such as the members of VCU's campus police force. A debate on the issue is planned for the spring semester.