AG says visitors may carry guns
Cuccinelli states University policy does not carry force of law; administrators work on response to opinion
Virginia Attorney General and University alumnus Ken Cuccinelli opined in July that the University's policy prohibiting guns on Grounds does not carry the force of law, and therefore does not fully extend to those with a permit to carry firearms.
Although students, faculty and staff are still subject to the policy, visitors are legally allowed to openly carry firearms on Grounds - though not in University buildings, Cuccinelli spokesperson Brian Gottstein said in an email. Visitors who possess concealed carry permits, however, may bring their weapons into buildings.
"Because the University adopted a policy rather than a regulation, it has not 'otherwise prohibited by law' persons with a concealed carry permit from possessing a handgun, and, therefore, the policies may not be used to prohibit persons with such a permit from carrying a concealed firearm into the buildings covered by the policy," Cuccinelli wrote.
Crucial to Cuccinelli's opinion is the distinction between a "regulation" and a "policy." The opinion notes a Virginia Supreme Court case involving a similar gun ban at George Mason University. In that case, the ban was deemed legal because it was enforced through a regulation, which carries the force of law, and the scope was limited to the confines of buildings and other "sensitive areas" at the school. A policy like the University's ban on guns, meanwhile, does not carry similar weight.
"A policy is something that a governing body of a university could pass, while a regulation has to be created by a university through the Virginia Register Act, which means the proposed regulations have to be posted for public disclosure before being adopted," Gottstein said. "A 'policy' undergoes no such formal process, thus it is not afforded 'the force of law.'"
In accordance with Cuccinelli's opinion, the University has begun to review its policy, University spokesperson Carol Wood said in an email.
"We quickly began a review and are now working on how best to respond as a university given the Attorney General's opinion, and any changes will have to go through a state review process," Wood said, adding that there is no indication how long the process could take.
Cuccinelli's opinion faces mixed reaction in and around Grounds.
Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, believes the University should have autonomy when deciding what to allow on its Grounds, whether the individual is a student, faculty member or visitor.
"I believe that the decisions about whether or not to permit guns on the Grounds of the University of Virginia should rest with the Board of Visitors and the administration of the University, and not with the heavy hand of the attorney general of the commonwealth," Toscano said.
Second-year College student Carter McCabe said she can understand the legal reasoning behind Cuccinelli's ruling, but she thinks the safety of University students and personnel must come first.
"Because it's a school, and they have to protect their students, the University should make that decision," McCabe said. "It makes me nervous that random visitors can carry weapons, especially in a building."
Fourth-year Engineering student Daniel Salmon said the University's ability to restrict his Second Amendment rights makes him equally nervous.
"If you leave it up to the University, you maybe make it more fair, but you leave the University and other organizations open to take the rights of citizens away due to their affiliations with certain institutions," Salmon said.