If Virginia State Del. Robert G. Marshall has his way, faculty members at public colleges and universities in the state could carry concealed handguns to class.

Marshall, R-13th District, has introduced House Bill 1656, which would allow full-time faculty members with concealed handgun permits to carry firearms on campuses of public institutions of higher education.

Although carrying a gun on a university campus with a permit is legal in Virginia, campus administrators can prohibit students and employees from doing so. Most public colleges and universities in Virginia ban or restrict guns on campus. Virginia law prohibits students or visitors from carrying guns onto the grounds of public and private K-12 schools. The Commonwealth also prohibits concealed weapons in courthouses, places of worship during a service and jails. But Virginia code contains no law pertaining to concealed weapons on university and college campuses.

The bill would not affect the University of Richmond and other private colleges and universities in Virginia. At Richmond and other private colleges and universities, the possession, storage, use, or attempt or threat to use any kind of weapon is prohibited on campus. This includes, but is not limited to, firearms and ammunition.

The bill would prohibit public university administrations and governing bodies from adopting or enforcing any rules that prohibit full-time faculty members with valid concealed handgun permits from carrying on campus.

Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-15th District, a co-patron of the bill, introduced a similar bill in 2006 after a Virginia Tech University student was nearly suspended in April 2005 when he brought a concealed handgun to class. The student was not arrested or charged with any crimes because he possessed a valid concealed handgun permit. But he had violated the school's policy prohibiting "unauthorized possession, storage or control" of a firearm on campus. Gilbert's proposed bill would have allowed anyone with a concealed handgun permit to carry on campus, but it was eventually rejected.

"I didn't think it was right that an institution could tell a student that they can't bring their legally permitted weapon to a public place," Gilbert said. "I am a co-patron of this bill and I introduced the bill in 2006 because I believe that people who have the right from the state to carry a concealed weapon should be permitted to do so by a public institution on public property."

The debate over whether guns should be permitted on campus has become more heated since the April 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, during which 33 people were killed.

"It's a touchy issue, especially since the Virginia Tech shooting and it can be painted as radical thinking," Gilbert said. "But what is really radical is that you can declare somewhere to be gun-free and in the wake of Virginia Tech believe that this declaration can still make it a safer place. It adds to the farce belief that gun-free zones make the environment safer."

The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, Inc. (IACLEA), an association dedicated to advancing public safety for educational institutions, opposes HB 1656. The association's Board of Directors believes that "concealed carry" initiatives do not make campuses safer, IACLEA President Lisa A. Sprague wrote in a statement concerning the bill.

Beth Simonds, services captain of the University of Richmond Police Department, also opposes the bill.

"Professors are here to teach and it is neither a responsibility nor a function of their job to protect people," Simonds said. "Furthermore, college campuses are statistically lower crime-wise than other localities around them. Guns on campus will no doubt affect the dynamic of the learning environment."

Most public university administrators as well as public university police departments are opposed to the bill, Simonds said. Administrators and university police departments will go down to the general assembly when the bill is in discussion to voice disapproval.

"Colleges and universities are a high-risk environment," Simonds said. "There is a lot of alcohol and a lot of stress and we think that this is the appropriate environment in which you would want to limit gun use and rights."

But Gilbert and other advocates think this bill has the potential to save lives.

"There are countless examples of armed citizens intervening and saving their own lives, their family members' lives, fellow citizens' lives," Gilbert said. "They had a means to stop the attacker at the point of attack rather than wait for the police to arrive and rope the crime scene and chalk off the body. When people have the right of self-protection, then it is certainly not up to anyone else to say they can't protect themselves."

People who have concealed handgun permits are some of the most law-abiding citizens, Gilbert said.

"There is a huge responsibility aspect to this law," Gilbert said. "Most criminals are not inherently responsible people. They will not be inclined to get a permit. The responsible people are the ones getting permits, going through training, spending money on lessons and fees for the permit and taking an oath in a court of law. This law would reward those people, not the criminals, and allow them to protect themselves and other citizens."

The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety, where it will either be killed or sent to the House for discussion and potentially a vote.

In addition to university administrations and police departments and IACLEA, many parents of victims of the Virginia Tech incident have spoken out against the bill, Simonds said.

Supporters of the bill include some police officers, Second Amendment activists and the student organizations such as Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, Gilbert said.

Marshall was not available for comment.

Another gun bill that has been introduced is HB 1822. It would make concealed handgun permit holders exempt from the current law prohibiting guns onto the property of a public, private or religious K-12 schools.

Contact reporter Nick Mider at nick.mider@richmond.edu