At UVA, fewer weapons arrests, but more protests


Neither Michael Gibson nor Philip Van Cleave take chances with a bluff. Gibson, chief of the UVA Police Department he joined in 1982, wrote to the University community last month after a student was robbed at gunpoint on Rugby Road during the early hours of September 28.

“If the suspect claims to have a gun, knife, razor or whatever, never try to force the bluff,” wrote Gibson. Also, he advised, “don’t make any sudden, unexpected moves. A nervous criminal may think you are reaching for a weapon.”

UVA Police Chief Michael Gibson told students in no uncertain terms to comply with anyone who threatens them with fire-arms. Others don’t share his feelings.

Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Civil Defense League (VCDL), responded to Gibson’s advice in an e-mail to his organization, which is “dedicated to advancing the fundamental human right of all Virginians to keep and bear arms.” Where Gibson told students not to force a bluff, Van Cleave said, “I won’t. I will assume he is telling me the truth and will react accordingly.”

What does react accordingly mean to Van Cleave? “I’m going to assume that my life is in grievous danger, and I’m going to protect myself,” he told C-VILLE. “If a guy says he has a gun, I’m not going to wait for him to show me the gun. I’m going to take him at his word.”

How do we prioritize conflicting messages about guns on campus? Four years after Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho carried out the deadliest rampage by a lone gunman in American history, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli opined that state college policies barring concealed weapons on campus lacked the force of law, so long as carriers were properly permitted.

Now, Van Cleave and VCDL are planning protests at eight state schools, including UVA. Van Cleave says his Charlottesville area protest has a sponsor, and he has testimonials from UVA alums who claim they will not give their money to the school until it drops its stance against concealed carry, whether it’s enforceable or not.

“They’re buildings with people in them. There’s nothing magical. God doesn’t strike somebody dead if there’s a criminal crossing a property with a gun,” said Van Cleave. “No, he can cross right there and, as Cho proved, do whatever he wants.” He added that disarming students, faculty and college visitors “only encourages what happened at Virginia Tech to happen elsewhere.”

C-VILLE could not verify whether the number of guns on the UVA campus had increased since Cho’s Virginia Tech shooting. However, the number of arrests and disciplinary referrals for on-campus weapons violations increased in 2008, the year after the Virginia Tech massacre, then dropped significantly in 2009.

From 2007 to 2009, police arrested only three individuals for weapons violations on the UVA campus—a number that represents 6 percent of all arrests for on-campus weapons violations at Virginia colleges. Additionally, UVA recently released its annual Clery Act report, which documents crime statistics for the University community. Last year, UVA Police made a total of two arrests for weapons violations in the community (which includes campus, student housing, non-campus and public areas), compared to four in 2009.

The UVA police did not return multiple requests for comment, although one official did tell C-VILLE that he had no knowledge of Van Cleave’s protest plans.

Do UVA students carry concealed weapons? For gun questions, the Virginia Rifle and Pistol Club was an easy target. Paul Benneche, supervisor of UVA’s decommissioned nuclear reactor, has volunteered as a coach of the Virginia Rifle and Pistol Club (VRPC) for 36 years. For more than 50 years, VRPC stored its firearms on Grounds, in the basement of the Naval ROTC building —“with no negative firearms-related issues,” said Benneche. When the basement shooting range was closed in 1999, the VRPC moved its practices to the Rivanna Rifle and Pistol Club.

A VRPC officer told C-VILLE that “a number of the club members have concealed carry permits.” However, the group takes no official stance concerning Cuccinelli’s opinion, said Benneche. “We encourage all our members to adhere to all federal, state, local and University firearm regulations,” he added.