The Board of Visitors was right to enact a legally enforceable regulation limiting guns on Grounds
Virginia Attorney General and University alumnus Ken Cuccinelli issued a written opinion last summer stating concealed carry permit holders were not bound by the University's policy prohibiting firearms from University facilities and events. Cuccinelli's rationale was that the University's "policy" did not carry the full force of law according to Virginia Code, and therefore was not sufficient to limit the special privileges granted to concealed carry permit holders.
The Board of Visitors rectified this flaw in the University's approach to gun safety last Friday, however, when it approved a new regulation that bans firearms and other weapons from University buildings and events. Unlike a policy, this regulation will be statutorily equivalent to law, meaning it will bring concealed carry permit holders within its purview since Virginia Code specifies that their status "shall not thereby authorize the possession of any handgun or other weapon on property or in places where such possession is otherwise prohibited by law[.]" This was a smart step for the Board to take, as it will minimize students' exposure to dangerous weaponry while keeping the University's gun safety strategy well within the bounds of what is allowed according to the Virginia and United States constitutions.
The University's regulation is substantively similar to one originally enacted in 2007 by George Mason University's Board of Visitors and subsequently upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court of Virginia. Both regulations are binding upon all individuals, with the exception of those in law enforcement, but neither produces a blanket ban upon carrying firearms anywhere on campus. Rather, to meet the test of narrow tailoring they only apply to on-campus buildings and other areas hosting large gatherings of people.
In addition, the University is on the same solid footing as George Mason in promulgating a gun regulation since both are public universities. This is true in light of the 2008 Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the court noted "nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on … laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings." The Supreme Court of Virginia argued from this logic when it upheld George Mason's authority to regulate firearms on its campus, acknowledging "the fact that GMU is a school and that its buildings are owned by the government," two characteristics that apply to the University as well.
Moreover, there is an obvious need for such a regulation to be in place. Any sort of weapon poses risks when it finds its way into an area with as high a concentration of people as university buildings and events, but this is especially true for firearms given their lethality and their potential for inflicting accidental harm. This holds even for those with expertise in handling firearms, as evidenced by an incident that occurred last week when an Albemarle County police officer inadvertently shot himself in the hand while at the Rivanna Rifle and Pistol Club.
Thus, the Board was correct to implement a firearms regulation at the University. The previous policy served its purpose well, and students, faculty and staff benefitted from the peaceful learning and living environment it promoted. The Board's response to new information about the nuances of state law should merely extend this protection into the future.