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JAMES MADISON UNIVERSITY

Students Aim for Gun Rights on Campus

James Madison University senior Leah Sargent, 20, and instructor Carlos Santillan, 45, examine her target at the Top Gun Shooting Range in Harrisonburg, Va. The shooting session was part of a gun rights week at JMU, aimed at showing how guns could protect students when attacked, as during the Virginia Tech massacre.
James Madison University senior Leah Sargent, 20, and instructor Carlos Santillan, 45, examine her target at the Top Gun Shooting Range in Harrisonburg, Va. The shooting session was part of a gun rights week at JMU, aimed at showing how guns could protect students when attacked, as during the Virginia Tech massacre. (Michael Reilly - Daily News-Record)

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By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 15, 2009

HARRISONBURG, Va., Feb. 14 -- Kyle Smith agreed to play the bad guy.

In a scenario eerily designed to imitate the Virginia Tech massacre, when a lone gunman shot and killed 32 people in the nine minutes it took for campus police to respond, Smith burst into a classroom here Saturday, his right index finger pointed as if it were a gun drawn, and immediately "shot" the teacher between the eyes.

"You people treated me wrong," the freshman yelled, a little sheepishly. "I just can't take it anymore."

As the four students in the room screamed, hit the floor and crouched under desks, he methodically fired five more shots with his finger and "killed" them all. In 23 seconds, it was over.

"You're all dead," Shawn Deehan, a gun rights advocate from GunRightsWeek.org, told the jeans-clad James Madison University students crumpled on the floor and waiting for his cue that the reenactment was over. "A great rate of response from law enforcement is six minutes. Six minutes. If you don't care if you live or die, that's a suitable response. But if you're concerned about living another day, another minute, then that's too long."

Then Deehan reran the scenario the way he and other gun rights advocates would prefer: with the teacher and two students carrying concealed weapons.

Only Utah allows students and teachers to carry weapons on college campuses. Most other states leave it to the discretion of university administrators. And nearly all -- save Blue Ridge Community College in Virginia and Colorado State University -- have decreed that weapons on campus are a bad idea.

The Virginia Tech massacre gave rise to two opposing and equally passionate movements. Many of the victims' friends and families founded Students for Gun Free Schools. They say guns are the last thing that college campuses, already hotbeds of hormones, alcohol and heated emotions, need. Yesterday's demonstration came courtesy of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus's JMU chapter, which was chartered in January.

Both groups agree that the pro-gun group is winning the numbers game. Students for Gun Free Schools has about 12,000 members on Facebook. The Concealed Carry group, with members in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, has more than 36,000.

Efforts by gun rights advocates to allow students and teachers to carry concealed weapons on campus have never gotten out of committee in the gun-friendly Virginia legislature the past four years. And a spate of attempts to introduce similar bills in a number of states since the Virginia Tech shooting have failed. But gun rights advocates say the battle is just beginning. And the battleground now, they say, is the hearts and minds and trigger fingers of students themselves.

What better way to create converts and advocates, they say, than to put them in the shoes of Virginia Tech victims and let them feel the difference between being defenseless and having the power to take action.

For the second scenario, bad guy Smith again barged into the classroom and again whacked the teacher between the eyes. But this time, Kelly Clouston and Leah Sargent, students at James Madison, bounced up out of their seats, assumed a wide-legged stance and pointed their "gun" fingers at Smith, not forgetting to pull their hands back slightly to imitate a pistol's recoil after they fired. Smith fell to the floor four seconds after he'd entered.


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