Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Students push for guns on campus

College students are pushing for their schools to allow them to carry guns on campus, saying they should have the right to protect themselves in a situation like the one in which 32 Virginia Tech students and faculty were fatally shot. Andrew Dysart, a George Mason University senior, organized a chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, which hopes to persuade legislators to overturn a Virginia law that allows universities to prohibit students, faculty and staff members with gun permits from carrying their weapons onto campus. "There's no way to know what could have happened, but the students at Tech, they really should have had a chance," Mr. Dysart said of the April 16 shootings in which gunman Seung-hui Cho killed 32 persons, then fatally shot himself. "They should have had the chance to defend themselves if it came down to that."

Virginia law lets schools decide whether to allow students with concealed-weapons permits to carry their guns on campus. One state school, Blue Ridge Community College, gave permission. Schools cannot prohibit nonstudents or other outsiders from carrying weapons onto campuses if they have legal permits. "In a sense, [students] don't have the same rights to self-defense on campus as the general public," said Mr. Dysart, who said his four years as a Marine shaped his ideas about self-defense. "It's really lopsided the way it works."

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, said individual colleges and universities should be able to decide whether to allow students to carry guns onto school grounds. Mr. Kaine also said he would wait to see whether a panel studying the Virginia Tech shootings makes recommendations on the issue. Nationwide, 38 states ban weapons at schools, and 16 of those specifically ban guns on college campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Other states allow schools to adopt their own gun policies.

Utah is the only state that specifically allows people to carry concealed weapons at public colleges. Legislation passed in 2004 allows concealed weapons on all state property, including colleges and universities. The University of Utah, which had banned concealed weapons for decades, challenged the law, but the state Supreme Court upheld it last year.

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