Thursday, November 09, 2023

The 1824 University of Virginia Ban on the Keeping of Weapons on Campus by Students


Much has been made of an 1824 University of Virginia ban on the keeping of weapons on campus by students. The resolution was passed on October 4, 1824, about five months before classes were started at the University. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, both former presidents and elder statesmen, were members of the board and attending when the resolutions were passed. The portions of the resolutions concerning weapons are contained in this excerpt, with the weapons passages in bold:

No Student shall admit any disturbing noises in his room, or make them any where within the precincts the University, or fire a gun or pistol within the same, on pain of such minor sentence as the faculty shall decree or approve. but the proper use of musical instruments, shall be freely allowed in their rooms, and in that appropriated for instruction of music.

Riotous, disorderly, intemperate or indecent conduct of any student within the precincts shall be punished by interdiction of a residence within the precincts; and repetitions of such offences, by expulsion from the University.

Fighting with weapons which may inflict death, or a challenge to such fight, given or accepted, shall be punished by instant expulsion from the University
, not remissible by the Faculty; and it shall be the duty of the Proctor to give information thereof to the civil magistrate, that the parties may be dealt with according to law.

Offences cognisable by the laws of the land shall be left to the cognisance of the civil magistrate, if claimed by him, or otherwise to the judgment of the Faculty: all others to that of the Faculty. and such of these as are not specially designated in the enactments of the Visitors may be subjected by the Faculty to any of the minor punishments permitted by these enactments.

Sentences of expulsion from the University (except in the case of challenge or combat with arms) shall not be final until approved by the board of Visitors or, when they are not in session, by a majority of them, separately consulted. but residence within the precincts, and attendance on the schools may be suspended in the mean time.

No Student shall, within the precincts of the University, introduce, keep or use any spirituous or vinous liquors, keep or use weapons or arms of any kind, or gunpowder, keep a servant, horse or dog, appear in school with a stick, or any weapon, nor, while in school, be covered without permission of the Professor, nor use tobacco by smoking or chewing, on pain of any of the minor punishments at the discretion of the Faculty, or of the board of Censors, approved by the Faculty.

Military instruction was required for three hours on each Saturday, with arms provided by the University.

Several things about the ban on all weapons at the University of Virginia are clear. The ban only applied to students. It did not apply to staff or to the public. The ban only applied on campus. The ban did not have any criminal penalties. It was a rule of the University, with penalties only enforceable because the students had voluntarily entered into a voluntary association, that of students at the University.

People who attempt to justify modern bans on firearms at schools or universities often cite the University of Virginia rule as a historical precedent. It is a poor precedent because:

  • The University of Virginia ban was not a law.
  • It was a rule which only applied to students.
  • The University of Virginia ban only applied "within the precincts of the University".

Voluntary associations can make their own rules. If a person does not like the rules, they can leave the association. Students can read the rules before they enter a university. Laws are to apply to everyone.

In the Constitutional challenge to the federal Gun Free School Zone Act in Montana, the Assistant United States Attorney, Thomas K. Godfrey claims the University of Virginia ban on weapons possession by students is a precedent. From the brief:

1824. The University of Virginia Board of Visitors—whose six members included Thomas Jefferson and James Madison—resolved that: “No Student shall, within the precincts of the University, ... keep or use weapons or arms of any kind, or gunpowder[.]” UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA BOARD OF VISITORS MINUTES, at 6-7 (Oct. 1824).

Bans on students possessing weapons within the precincts of the University are not a precedent for bans on everyone possessing firearms outside of a school.

©2023 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would be willing to bet the rules on alcohol and the use of tobacco products on the University of Virginia campus were largely ignored and often broken since 1824.