President Obama's town hall event on gun violence at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. on Thursday night is likely to provoke strong emotions. And the school's police chief is warning students and faculty that protesters could be carrying weapons on campus — legally.
"Please be advised that it is lawful to carry firearms in Virginia, and this includes at public outdoor spaces on our campus," Thomas Longo, GMU's interim chief of police said in an email to the school's internal listserv. Though students are on winter break, the chief wrote that the University Police "will have officers present to ensure that all protesters remain law-abiding."
The event at the Johnson Center, which will begin at 8 p.m. and be broadcast live on CNN, comes days after the president announced a series of executive actions aimed at curbing gun violence, including plans to require more gun sellers to apply for federal licenses and increase background checks on buyers. Obama said he acted because Congress has failed to pass stricter gun laws in the wake of highly publicized mass shootings and other gun-related violence.
CNN executives said Obama's invitation-only audience will include a total of 100 representatives of gun rights and gun control organizations, who will ask the president questions, although the network reported that the National Rifle Association has refused to attend. The Brady Campaign, which promotes stricter gun laws, sent an email to reporters saying the group will hold a rally near campus at 6 p.m. to support Obama's efforts. The group said its president, Dan Gross, will attend the town hall event.
A report on the conservative news site townhall.com said that George Mason's College Republicans organization will be protesting on campus at 7 p.m.
George Mason officials said they have not received any specific notice that anyone with a gun will be demonstrating outside the arena, but issued the email to raise awareness among students and faculty at a time of heightened concerns over mass shootings on colleges campuses.
Longo's email emphasized that George Mason prohibits staff, faculty and students from carrying weapons anywhere on campus, but that outsiders are allowed, in some cases, to do so in public spaces.
"No one outside of law enforcement is permitted to bring weapons into Mason buildings, not even gun owners with legal permits," he wrote.
A campus official noted that the University Police will be focused on protecting George Mason students and faculty, while it is the Secret Service that is responsible for Obama's safety.