Ex-Marine at GMU Presses to Let Students Have Guns

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By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 14, 2007

Soon after Virginia Tech's mass shooting, some George Mason University students formed a group to do something about guns on campus: They want the right to carry them.

Andrew Dysart, who heads George Mason University Students for Concealed Carry, said the group aims to overturn a university policy that prohibits students and faculty members from carrying firearms on campus. About 45 students have signed up since organizers began pulling the group together in late April, he said.

The group has not drawn up an action plan or had regular meetings, largely because the school year was winding down when the effort got underway. But Dysart, a former Marine and a junior majoring in justice administration, said he hopes to formally convene the club, approve bylaws and obtain official recognition from the university this fall.

Dysart, who has a concealed carry permit, said he met with GMU administrators who were receptive to forming a club that met university guidelines on official organizations. The administrators were less encouraging about its goals, he said.

"At the same time, I think they're surprised at the number of students I've gotten behind me," said Dysart, 25, of Warrenton. "Talking to people, I get mixed reactions. I get people who support me and people who don't think it's such a good idea."

George Mason's Board of Visitors reviewed its weapons policy and discovered that its prohibition was unenforceable. Policy No. 56, in effect since 1995, barred faculty, students, staff members, contractors and visitors from carrying firearms, concealed or otherwise.

But a search of board actions found no official action authorizing the total ban, raising questions about whether the ban was enforceable, according to a memo prepared for the board by chief of staff J. Thomas Hennessey Jr. and legal counsel Thomas Moncure. In any case, the university had no authority over visitors who were lawfully permitted to carry firearms.

"Since the current policy is unenforceable, it is prudent that the Board approves a policy as soon as possible that is both enforceable and unequivocal as to who may, and may not, bring weapons on campus," the memo says.

Last Thursday, the Board of Visitors declined to act on the policy and asked the administration to clarify the school's authority and its intention to prohibit weapons on campus.

In the meantime, GMU spokesman Daniel Walsch said the school's policy -- banning students, faculty and staff members from carrying weapons -- remained in effect. Failure to heed the ban could result in a range of disciplinary action, including expulsion, Walsch said.

Some advocates of gun control said they could not understand a response to the massacre at Virginia Tech that would support arming more people. But Dysart and other gun rights advocates said the killer might have been stopped if a student or faculty member had been armed that day. In that incident, a student killed 32 people before taking his own life.

"It's proof of why we needed it," Dysart said. Speaking of the killer, Dysart added: "You wonder how much it plays into people's minds that they know students don't have any weapons."

Dysart grew up in Garland, Tex., near Dallas, and joined the Marines in January 2001 after high school, serving in Okinawa. He left the service in 2005. Dysart has a permit to carry a concealed weapon -- usually a Springfield Armory 9mm semiautomatic -- and has on occasion carried a firearm openly, but not on campus.

As the gun club's founder, Dysart already has been dealing with the attention that it has created, giving several interviews to media outlets and appearing at last month's highly publicized gun raffle in Fairfax County by a gun rights group.

On a television talk show, Dysart was asked whether students could be trusted with such an enormous responsibility.

The moderator said: "The grownups say, 'I know how my kid is. I know how most kids are. The last thing I think would be to give some kid, in a place where kids drink and have emotional issues and are still growing up . . . access to a gun."

Dysart said: "I think the main problem with that is we keep using the word 'kid.' To be able to get a concealed permit in Virginia, you have to be 21 years old, which would eliminate freshmen, sophomores and juniors. And you have to go through training."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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