- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2008

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP ) — Extra campus police officers were on duty last night in case students protested a visit to Virginia Tech by the online weapons dealer who sold one of the guns used in last year’s deadly shootings at the school, but no trouble erupted.

About 60 students listened politely as dealer Eric Thompson spoke as part of a weeklong demonstration in favor of allowing people to carry concealed weapons on college campuses.

“For people who want to arm themselves, there shouldn’t be policies in place to stop them,” Mr. Thompson said.

He visited to support a chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, which advocates weapons on campuses, but said he paid his own way.

Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker denounced the visit in a statement Wednesday, saying it was “terribly offensive” that Mr. Thompson would set foot on campus.

“He has a First Amendment right to speak,” said Andrew Goddard of Richmond, whose son Colin was injured in the shootings. “I think it’s rather insensitive of him, though.”

Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum said about 20 officers were in and around Whittemore Hall, where the meeting was held, “to make sure everyone’s rights are protected.” Six officers stood in the lecture hall where Mr. Thompson received applause and only a few anti-gun questions.

Ken Stanton, president of the university’s chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, a group advocating weapons on campus, said he lost a friend in the shootings and it taught him “firsthand the importance of self-protection.”

Virginia Tech last week marked the first anniversary of the April 16, 2007, shootings in a dormitory and classroom building that left 33 dead, including the gunman, student Seung-hui Cho.

Cho bought a Walther .22-caliber handgun through Mr. Thompson’s Web site, www.thegunstore.com, based in Green Bay, Wis. Through another company Web site, Mr. Thompson also sold handgun accessories to the man who in February killed five Northern Illinois University students, then himself.

Mr. Thompson told WBA-TV in Green Bay this week that “what I’m really hoping to do [during the visit] is just lend a voice. Unfortunately, a set of coincidences and circumstances, I’ve been in the media, and I think with that I have a special responsibility to help out.

“And this is a case where I think my advocacy here will help change some people’s minds. I hope, anyway.”

Mr. Goddard called the idea of concealed weapons on a sprawling campus like Virginia Tech’s “absolutely ludicrous.”

“It’s straight out of the movies,” he said. “Bruce Willis can do it because he doesn’t have to worry about people shooting back with live ammunition.”

Mr. Stanton, a Virginia Tech graduate student, said he began receiving complaints about the planned appearance only after Mr. Hincker’s statement was issued. He said he had never considered carrying a gun until the shootings, in which his friend Jeremy Herbstritt died.

Members of the student group, which claims a membership of 25,000 nationwide and 200 at Virginia Tech, are wearing empty holsters to classes this week to protest laws and policies that restrict concealed weapons on campuses. Mr. Thompson said he helped provide hundreds of holsters to nearly 30 college campuses.

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