This Has Gone Too Far: Another Open Letter to Chancellor Falwell of Liberty University

Chancellor/President Jerry Falwell, Jr. has doubled down on his gun position since the controversy broke out over his Convocation statements (if you haven’t seen that, please read here). When I first addressed this controversy, I left to the side the arguments about guns on campuses, but now I fell it is time to deal with that issue.

Jerry Falwell, Jr. has gone too far this time. He has gone from dangerous rhetoric to placing students in danger with his new policy allowing firearms in the dorms. To make matters worse, he justified this by bringing in the example of the Virginia Tech shootings, via a University statement: “Liberty University’s  policy of allowing students, faculty, and staff to carry weapons on campus was as a result of a school shooting at Virginia Tech, a campus about an hour from campus. Other Convocation remarks by President Falwell after similar tragedies further underscores our belief that we should exercise our Second Amendment rights to protect ourselves in the event something similar should occur on our campus.” Once again, I will write another letter to Chancellor Falwell. I cannot be quiet any longer on the bigger issue here.

16 December 2015
Jerry L. Falwell, Jr.
Chancellor and President
Liberty University
1971 University Blvd
Lynchburg, VA 24515

Chancellor/President Falwell,

Here we are again. This time you have implemented a policy allowing firearms not only in the classrooms and campus, but in the dormitories of Liberty University. Your statement, via the University that you have complete control over, indicates that you are motivated by the Virginia Tech massacre of April 16, 2007 in your idea that guns make campuses safer. There have been many articles and letters written about the statistics on mass shootings and reduced gun control. However, I’d like to share my experiences, both as a Liberty alumnus who lived on campus for four years and as a native of Radford, Virginia, which as I’m sure you’re aware is approximately a 15 minute drive from Tech.

April 16, 2007 is a day that will always stick with me in my memory. I remember my school being locked down, worried there was a second shooter on campus who had fled and could end up in Radford. I remember going to the Virginia Tech convocation the next day, sitting in the overflow area in Lane Stadium and listening to President Bush say this: “Yesterday began like any other day. Students woke up, and they grabbed their backpacks and they headed for class. And soon the day took a dark turn, with students and faculty barricading themselves in classrooms and dormitories — confused, terrified, and deeply worried.” Thankfully for students at Virginia Tech, they did not have to worry that the person barricading with them was going to shoot them in the back. Classrooms and dormitories are a place of safety, a place of refuge, even in the darkest of times.

I say this not only from listening to President Bush and hearing the stories of those who ran to the safest areas they have found, but I know about this from personal experience. April 1, 2009 is also a day that will be in my memory forever. You may not remember this day, but that is the day that Radford University went on lockdown due to a gunman on campus. It turned out to not be a mass shooting, but that doesn’t change the terror. I was a student finishing my high school studies through Liberty University’s Online Academy, and I found a social life with Radford University’s Campus Crusade. Despite not being a college student, the CRU people accepted me into their group and that was a place I felt accepted. On that day, we were meeting in the Bonnie, the new student center at Radford on the eastern edge of campus. As we were finishing our meeting and preparing to head home, the word came from the RUPD: a gunman has been spotted in the Bonnie and the campus is on lockdown. We ended up leading the students in the Bonnie to the upstairs classrooms with no windows and one entry point. We collected the pepper spray from students around us and locked into the room. While some of the praise leaders led those who wanted to sing in songs of praise to maintain calm, a few of us (including me) stood at that one door, protecting against any breach. In the panic, any person with a gun that was not the police would have been treated as a threat.  We were ready to possibly sacrifice our lives to keep a gunman out of that room. I cannot imagine if a “good guy with a gun” had knocked on that door. We would have immediately sprayed pepper spray and attacked in defense of that room of innocent people. There would not have been time to ask, “are you the shooter?” or “are you here to kill us?”. I also guarantee you the police would have been unable to determine the difference.

In addition to my experiences at Virginia Tech and Radford, I was a student at Liberty University for four years. As you are aware, Liberty requires traditional students to live on campus until they are 21 years old unless they receive permission to live off campus. This means that most students must spend at least three years as an on campus student. While Liberty does not allow alcohol on campus, firearms in a dorm are still dangerous. I wish I could say that I am sure no Liberty student would ever get mad and shoot a roommate, suitemate, dorm mate, or a person from another dorm, but my four years at Liberty tells me differently. For me, the dorms were a place of emotional safety from a campus often hostile toward my beliefs. The dorms were a safe space to discuss issues that I fundamentally disagreed with both other students and the University on. College is supposed to be a place where you can discuss faith, beliefs, ideas, and opinions without the fear of someone walking into their room and threatening to shoot you with the .22 they have under the bed.

When you combine the attitude you showed toward Muslims in your convocation speech with your policy change to increase firearms on campus by allowing them in student’s rooms, I fear for Liberty University’s continued safety. I fear for the small minority of Muslim students who live on campus, enduring the attempts to convert them to live in a place where alcohol and sex are not a large part of the college experience. Liberty was a place that provided a college atmosphere that allowed for education without the distractions of a roommate or suitemate keeping you awake because he/she is having sex all night or comes in at 3am drunk. Liberty offered a place where students could explore being themselves, even if the curriculum did not line up with my personal beliefs. Liberty gave me a place to truly think about who I wanted to be with less distractions. However, if I had children, I would never ask them to choose a University where their roommate may have a weapon in the next bed.

I call on you to change the policy or to resign and let someone who will change it take over. College students should never fear that there is someone with a gun in their dorm, not to mention in the bed next to them. This has gone too far; you have made your conservative political point. Now repeal this policy before a student is found shot to death in their bed.

Once again,

William King Scott ’13

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