Throwback Thursday: Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition?
About six years ago, Liberty University took the unprecedented step of allowing concealed weapons on campus. At the time, some friends of mine were operating a website called thepublicqueue.com. The invited me to write something reflecting on that decision.
In the years since that decision, Jerry Falwell Jr. and Liberty University have remained consistently in the news for their support of gun rights. Falwell publicly encouraged students to get their conceal and carry permit and arm themselves in 2015. He even bragged from the pulpit that he had a pistol in his back pocket. Meanwhile, the university offers a free concealed permit training class and recently opened a firing range.
With those stories in the back of my mind, I thought it might be time to revisit my thoughts from November 2011.
* * *
On Wednesday, Nov. 16 , the Board of Trustees of Liberty University announced that on the previous Friday, Nov. 11, the board unanimously approved a policy that will allow students, staff, and visitors who have a concealed weapons permit to carry firearms on campus.
The new policy forbids students and visitors from carrying a firearm into a building, but will permit some professors and staff to conceal indoors on a case-by-case basis. [NB: Liberty has since decided to allow concealed weapons in dorms.]
Liberty, located in Lynchburg, Virginia, was founded in 1971 by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr. Forty years later, it boasts that it “is the largest private non-profit university in the nation, the largest university in Virginia, and the largest Christian university in the world.”
Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. approved of the decision, suggesting that it was “a good thing” because it would increase student security on campus. He cited widespread student support as a motivating factor in changing the school’s policy, at one point suggesting that it was consistent with the school’s conservative values.
So what does this mean, besides the fact that my mom can now conceal and carry at Liberty? (Yes, my mom holds a concealed weapons permit in the Commonwealth of Virginia). Not a whole lot, it would seem. Although public universities such as UVA moved to outlaw the possession of firearms on campus, and specifically in buildings, a legal opinion offered by the Commonwealth’s Attorney General suggests that they cannot legally prohibit permit-holders from carrying. Following a decision recently made by the Supreme Court of Virginia, it would seem that anyone with a valid concealed weapons permit is already permitted to carry on the grounds of any public university in the state of Virginia. In this regard, Liberty is merely permitting something that is already permissible at public universities.
To me, that is what makes this decision all the more disappointing. My interest in this matter is three-fold: I’m a Bible-believing, gun-toting, Virginia resident. Although I am concerned as a Virginia resident about the legality of carrying concealed weapons in public places, that is not what concerns me here. And although I own multiple firearms and have a particular set of judgments regarding gun-control, neither is that my real concern. What my main concern is with this decision is the fact that this is a decision made by a self-professed Christian university.
On Liberty’s website, Chancellor Falwell writes, “everything we do is designed to develop Christ-centered men and women with the values, knowledge and skills essential to impact tomorrow’s world.” It is not clear to me that this decision fits within those parameters. Why? Because as a firearms owner, I have a certain informed decision regarding the purpose of a concealed weapon. Unlike rifles or shotguns, which cannot be concealed and are mostly used for sport, pistols are largely used for security purposes. You don’t carry a concealed weapon unless you are imagining the possibility that you will use it against another human being. Call it self-defense, safety, or whatever, the bottom line is you are imagining a scenario in which you are willing to shoot-to-kill.
As someone who owns and uses firearms, I refuse to own a handgun simply because in my judgment it is never okay to walk around with a willingness to consider an option that includes killing another human being. That is what carrying a concealed weapon is: leaving an option on the table.
But this judgment does not derive from my knowledge and experience with firearms. Neither does it derive from making an informed decision as a registered voter in Virginia. This judgment derives from my formation as someone who is called a “Christian”; Someone who reads the Bible, and takes Jesus seriously when he suggests that even thinking about killing someone else is murder; Someone who believes that following Jesus means acknowledging the fact that at some point, someone, somewhere might actually try to kill me. And I am not called to be prepared to resist, I’m called to be prepared to forgive them.
Liberty University may be making this decision in accordance with the desires of its students. If so, shame on them. They promised to form these students as disciples, and they are failing.
Liberty University may be making this decision in accordance with what is already acceptable at state universities. If so, shame on them. They claimed to be a Christian university, offering an alternative vision for education and formation. In this regard, they are failing to show other universities that Christian universities have something significant to offer.
Virginia has always been a place where God, guns, and government coexist in an uncomfortable concoction. It seems this concoction has confused Liberty University to the point where it no longer operates with a coherent and truthful mission.