Liberty University students, staff apply for gun carry permits

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) - Dozens of Liberty University students and faculty have applied to carry guns on campus since the school changed its weapons policy in November, school officials said.

University officials said they have received 64 applications - 26 from students and 28 from faculty. The school will not say how many of those have been approved.

Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. tells the News & Advance of Lynchburg the new policy has garnered widespread support on campus. "The complaints have been almost non-existent," Falwell said.

"There were many, many thank-yous from students, faculty and staff . It was an outpouring of gratitude." The policy replaced a total ban on firearms on campus.

Now, students with concealed weapons permits can apply for permission from campus police to carry a gun on the outdoor grounds or in a locked car.

Visitors with permits can store their weapons in locked cars. Neither can carry a firearm into campus buildings, including classrooms, athletics facilities and dormitories.

Faculty and staff can apply for permission to carry weapons inside buildings.

The debate over allowing guns on campus has raged since a student gunman killed 32 students and faculty and himself at Virginia Tech in 2007.

Gun rights activists argue allowing students and faculty to carry weapons could help diffuse such situations.

Gun control advocates argue it could make campuses much less safe.

Gun rights supporters will again push a bill in the General Assembly to prevent colleges from barring the possession of guns on campus.

Such bills have failed in the past, but supporters believe they have a chance now that Republicans won elections in November that will put them in control of both legislative chambers.

Liberty senior Craig Storrs said he would apply for permission to carry his Bersa .380, a small handgun, when he returns from Christmas break. He said he wants the weapon for personal protection.

"I have the highest respect for LUPD and their officers, but they can't be everywhere at every time," said Storrs, who led the student effort to end Liberty's firearms ban.

"Carrying a concealed weapon is a preventative measure and it's a deterrent." David Corry, Liberty's general counsel, said the university's new position on guns aligns with its conservative identity.

"There were a lot of folks who were pleased to see that our weapons policy was consistent with our stance on the Second Amendment," said Corry, who wrote the policy.

Liberty's police chief, Col. Richard Hinkley, has expressed concerns about the policy. He said some officers feared allowing guns on campus could make it more difficult to identify the suspect in a high-stakes situation.

They also feared it could increase the risk of gun-related accidents.

Falwell said those concerns have been addressed and that the school's officers now fully support the policy.

Hinkley was not made available for comment. Falwell said the fatal shooting of a campus police officer at Virginia Tech in early December reinforced Liberty's decision to loosen its gun policy.

"I just saw that as an affirmation that the policy needed to be changed," Falwell said. "I think our policy will help prevent similar incidents at Liberty University."