RICHMOND — College students are pushing for their schools to allow them to carry guns on campus, saying they should have the right to protect themselves in a situation like the one in which 32 Virginia Tech students and faculty were fatally shot.
Andrew Dysart, a George Mason University senior, organized a chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, which hopes to persuade legislators to overturn a Virginia law that allows universities to prohibit students, faculty and staff members with gun permits from carrying their weapons onto campus.
“There’s no way to know what could have happened, but the students at Tech, they really should have had a chance,” Mr. Dysart said of the April 16 shootings in which gunman Seung-hui Cho killed 32 persons, then fatally shot himself. “They should have had the chance to defend themselves if it came down to that.”
Virginia law lets schools decide whether to allow students with concealed-weapons permits to carry their guns on campus. One state school, Blue Ridge Community College, gave permission. Schools cannot prohibit nonstudents or other outsiders from carrying weapons onto campuses if they have legal permits.
“In a sense, [students] don’t have the same rights to self-defense on campus as the general public,” said Mr. Dysart, who said his four years as a Marine shaped his ideas about self-defense. “It’s really lopsided the way it works.”
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, said individual colleges and universities should be able to decide whether to allow students to carry guns onto school grounds. Mr. Kaine also said he would wait to see whether a panel studying the Virginia Tech shootings makes recommendations on the issue.
Nationwide, 38 states ban weapons at schools, and 16 of those specifically ban guns on college campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Other states allow schools to adopt their own gun policies.
Utah is the only state that specifically allows people to carry concealed weapons at public colleges. Legislation passed in 2004 allows concealed weapons on all state property, including colleges and universities. The University of Utah, which had banned concealed weapons for decades, challenged the law, but the state Supreme Court upheld it last year.
South Carolina’s legislature this year defeated a bill that would allow permit holders to carry guns onto public-school campuses.
Students for Concealed Carry on Campus members at more than 60 colleges are trying to change their state laws to allow permit holders to carry on campus.
Joe Culotta, a senior at the University of Central Florida, said he and fellow students planned to form a group to advocate for concealed carry even before the Virginia Tech shootings. The Knights Rifle Association seeks recognition as an official student organization this fall, and plans to circulate a petition to send to Florida’s governor about the issue, Mr. Culotta said.
Many colleges generally oppose, for safety reasons, allowing concealed-carry permit holders to bring guns onto campus and resist efforts to change the law.
In the Virginia General Assembly, a bill requiring schools to allow permit holders to carry concealed handguns was defeated in subcommittee this year, said Delegate Mark L. Cole, the Spotsylvania Republican who sponsored the bill. Mr. Cole said he will wait until the Virginia Tech study panel issues its findings before deciding whether to reintroduce such a measure.
“Obviously, the current policy is ineffective,” he said. “It certainly didn’t protect anyone at Virginia Tech.”
The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, which represents campus public-safety officials, said the presence of students carrying concealed weapons “has the potential to dramatically increase violence on our college and university campuses.”
Allowing concealed weapons brings the potential for accidental gun discharge or misuse of firearms at parties, including those where alcohol or drugs are used, and the possibility for guns to be used to settle students’ disputes, the group said.
Virginia Tech officials haven’t actively lobbied against attempts to modify the state’s law, spokesman Larry Hincker said, but the university’s position on weapons hasn’t changed after the shootings.
“We don’t believe that guns have any place in the classroom,” Mr. Hincker said. “We’ve experienced far more of guns in the classroom than any university should have to endure.”