UVA upgrades gun prohibition

When the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors upgraded the school’s weapons “policy” to a “regulation,” it transformed a stated preference for a gun-free Grounds into an enforceable rule. The November 4 vote also sets the stage for a heated General Assembly battle that could pit Second Amendment advocates and Virginia’s concealed carry law against universities like UVA and George Mason, which apply further restrictions to firearms on their premises.

State Delegate David Toscano applauded the UVA Board of Visitors for its recent and unanimous vote to enforce its gun prohibition as law. For students and faculty, the measure means that even permitted concealed weapons are not allowed on UVA property.

“I think we will see legislation during this General Assembly session that will give people a right to concealed carry on University campuses,” said Delegate David Toscano, who was recently reelected to a fourth term.

“That would be a big mistake,” he added. “And it’s not something that I would support.”

According to UVA spokesperson Carol Wood, the 16-member Board of Visitors voted unanimously in favor of a regulation prohibiting weapons, fireworks and explosives. The regulation prohibits members of the public and visitors from carrying weapons in University buildings, from student residences to sports venues to the University Medical Center. However, for members of the University community—students, faculty, employees and volunteers—the prohibition covers “University property.” which includes the Grounds themselves. It also applies to University community members with concealed carry permits.

That might upset one or two members of the University community. In a June survey of UVA academic staff prepared for President Teresa Sullivan, some staff responded that they would feel safer if their colleagues were armed.

“I do believe that the Grounds would be safer in terms of the threat of violence if students and staff were allowed to carry handguns with a concealed carry permit,” wrote one. Another added, “I personally do not like the thought that I am forced by University policy to give up my right to self protection because some bureaucrat is uncomfortable around firearms.”

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Civil Defense League, is coordinating protests of similar policies and regulations at other Virginia colleges. He contested the manner in which the Board of Visitors passed the regulation, and told C-VILLE that VCDL believes UVA should have held public hearings.

“I doubt the new regulation would be legally enforceable against guests even if they carry in the buildings,” said Van Cleave. “Clearly UVA thinks its authority to ban guns is more powerful than even the General Assembly or local government, who have to hold public hearings for such things by law.”

That’s not necessarily true. According to Virginia’s Administrative Process Act, UVA and other public colleges are exempt from prior public notification for regulations that cover, among other things, disciplinary matters for faculty and students.

The recent debate concerning concealed carry rights on Virginia college campuses arose this summer, when Virginia Senator Emmett Hanger (whose district includes a section of Albemarle County) asked Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for an opinion on the legality of regulations and policies against weapons on campuses, be they concealed or otherwise. Cuccinelli outlined the enforceability of regulations for Hanger, and clarified that UVA’s policy could not prohibit individuals with concealed carry permits from bringing weapons into University buildings.

However, a regulation effectively does the job.

Senator Hanger did not return a request for comment, nor did he tell C-VILLE whether he would pursue legislation to permit concealed carry in spite of such regulations. However, in his letter to Hanger, the Attorney General left room for a greater ideological debate about concealed carry on campus.

“I express no opinion about their wisdom,” wrote Cuccinelli. “It certainly can be argued that such policies are ineffectual because persons who wish to perpetrate violence will ignore them, and that the net effect of such policies is to leave defenseless the law-abiding citizens who follow these policies.”

However, Hanger would certainly encounter some local opposition in the General Assembly.

“My position consistently has been that guns, concealed or otherwise, do not have a place on University campuses except for reasonable law enforcement reasons,” said Toscano. “I think UVA, with its regulation, has adopted a reasonable approach to how you address firearms on campuses.”