Shooting blanks

In light of recent tragedies the University must stand by its weapons policy to keep guns off Grounds

A University of Maryland graduate student early Tuesday morning shot two housemates, killing one and injuring the other, before turning the gun on himself. The incident happened about a block from the University of Maryland at College Park’s campus.

The Maryland shooting comes with the Newtown, Conn. tragedy fresh in our memories. Tuesday’s incident lacks the scope and terror of what happened at Newtown. It has the air of a private quarrel rather than a systematic execution. But the trend of gun violence on or near educational institutions is disquieting.

People sometimes describe college as a bubble. The term need not be altogether disparaging. Colleges — like all schools — should cut themselves off from elements antithetical to learning. Fear is one such element. At some schools, unease dampens the air. Students at numerous primary and secondary schools pass through metal detectors each morning while armed security guards stand in the hallways. And last month, at the University’s College at Wise, the 2,000-student campus shut down after a false report of a gunman on the school’s grounds.

Tuesday’s College Park tragedy should grab the attention of University officials and Virginia lawmakers. The University of Maryland is one of our peer institutions. It is different in many ways: For one, Maryland has nearly twice as many students as we do, which increases the likelihood of having one or more students who might engage in violence. But what guarantee do we have that what happened in College Park won’t happen in Charlottesville?

In early February, Wallace Loh, the president of the University of Maryland at College Park, was one of 350 college presidents to sign an open letter to U.S. policy leaders urging them to oppose legislation allowing guns on school campuses. He was one of the few presidents of public institutions to sign the document. University President Teresa Sullivan did not join him in doing so.

We cannot fault Sullivan too much for not going out on a limb to support gun-control measures. Presidents of public universities are under different and more varied pressures than leaders of private institutions. Republicans, many wary of gun control, currently dominate Virginia’s leadership. And Sullivan might not have made any traction in improving the University’s safety by signing. Indeed, she might have hurt the school by making herself vulnerable to attacks by gun-rights advocates or donors who would threaten to withhold gifts. Sullivan is under no commitment to make public political stances — and the gun-control debate, currently inflamed, is not politically neutral territory.

The University prohibits the possession, storage and use of firearms on University property, with the exception of those required by police officers and official ROTC activities. Sullivan and other University stakeholders should stand by current rules barring guns from Grounds. The University’s gun policy drew fire a few years ago when Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli — now a Republican candidate for governor — argued in an advisory opinion that the school’s rules were too strict. Cuccinelli contended that the University, as a state agency, could not ban weapons from Grounds. In light of Tuesday’s shooting and other high-profile gun-related tragedies, however, the University should continue to take pains to maximize the safety and security of its students, patients, faculty and staff by standing by its commitment to a gun-free Grounds.

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