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Ayers has yet to sign letter to policymakers regarding gun control

Members of College Presidents for Gun Safety, a group formed after the elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn., in December, published an open letter to U.S. policymakers demanding the nation's leaders address gun safety. 350 U.S. college and university presidents, not including Richmond President Edward Ayers, have signed the letter.

The letter, co-authored by Oglethorpe University President Lawrence M. Schall and Agnes Scott College President Elizabeth Kiss, read: "We are college and university presidents. We are parents. We are Republicans, Democrats and Independents. We urge both our President and Congress to take action on gun control now. As a group, we do not oppose gun ownership. But, in many of our states, legislation has been introduced or passed that would allow gun possession on college campuses. We oppose such laws."

The letter, dated Dec. 19, 2012, calls for action to be taken regarding mental health issues, as well as three specific steps toward curbing gun violence, including requiring every gun buyer to pass a criminal background check, banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and making gun trafficking a federal crime.

Richmond has put a policy in place that prohibits the possession of firearms on campus for anyone except law enforcement personnel, university spokesman Brian Eckert said in an email.

Ayers did not return requests for comment.

In December, the letter was initially circulated through the Council of Independent Colleges, said Renee Vary, director of communications at Oglethorpe University. Richmond is an institutional member of the CIC, but Vary said there was no way of knowing whether certain college presidents had seen the letter.

The majority of signers are presidents of private colleges and universities, according to the Washington Post.

"The university applauds the leadership of the U.S. Secretary of Education...and other college and university officials in highlighting this important public policy and public safety issue," Eckert said.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who spoke at Richmond's 2010 commencement ceremony, stood with college presidents, students, administrators and mayors on Monday and said, "Congress needs to be forced by Americans outside Washington D.C., to do the right thing," according to the Washington Post.

Police Chief David McCoy serves on the Public Safety Workgroup of the Governor's School and Campus Safety Task Force, Eckert said. The task force, established in December by Gov. Bob McDonnell, evaluates campus safety and identifies critical resource gaps.

In a personal viewpoint essay, which appeared in the Atlanta Business Chronicle this week, Schall said it was unusual for college presidents to speak out on a controversial public issue.

According to information released by College Presidents for Gun Safety, Shall said that although college and university presidents did not agree on every issue, "we can no longer afford to remain silent when 33 Americans are being murdered with guns every day."

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The letter has also not been signed by Virginia Commonwealth University President Michael Rao or University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan.

Contact reporter Molly Gentzel at molly.gentzel@richmond.edu

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