Liberty University, the largest religion-affiliated U.S. school, is loosening restrictions for carrying firearms on its Lynchburg, Va., campus.
Liberty students who have an easy-to-obtain Virginia concealed carry permit and permission from campus police will now be able to carry a loaded gun into classrooms, according to a March 22 revision to school policy. University staff and visitors may also bring firearms into university buildings on campus, WSET reported. Students remain banned from bringing guns into residence halls, even with a permit.
"Students ought to have the ability to protect themselves," Josh Hetzler, a law student who helped draft the new policy, told WDBJ. "We've seen a number of instances here in the nation recently were schools are particularly vulnerable. They're gun free zones, except that the bad guys still get the guns."
Liberty, a Christian institution founded by television evangelist Jerry Falwell, has an enrollment of 74,000, including 62,000 taking online courses. The school dropped its ban on campus guns in November 2011. That step allowed faculty and staff to bring their guns into buildings if they had a permit, while students and visitors were allowed to carry guns in cars and on the campus grounds, but not inside buildings.
There are still restrictions. People on probation, students in violation of any academic or honor code, or those who have "been arrested for or charged with any assault, battery, stalking, crime of violence, or felony" are not allowed to carry guns on campus. Only residence hall directors will be allowed to bring guns into a dorm.
Most colleges prohibit the carrying of concealed handguns.
“I think it's good that Liberty is a little more open than some schools, and I think it’ll continue to create a higher level of security on campus than what was found at Virginia Tech," Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty chancellor, told the News & Advance.
Liberty joins 25 colleges in Colorado, Utah, Virginia and Michigan in allowing concealed carry on campus, according to the advocacy group Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus. Virginia is one of 24 states that leave the decision to ban guns with schools.
“A student with a concealed weapon is unlikely to prevent a mass shooting or crime," John Johnson, spokesman for the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus, told the News & Advance. "On the other hand, the unintended consequences of gun possession by students and others -- a shooting during an argument or dispute, attempted suicide, unintentional shooting, etc. -- are real and make the college campus more dangerous every hour of every day."
Though Liberty students may now carry loaded weapons to class, Liberty rules continue to prohibit R-rated movies, un-Godly music, dancing, kissing or staying in a motel room with a member of the opposite sex, as outlined in the student handbook.
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