If it’s publicity that Liberty University is after, they’ve succeeded.
Based in Lynchburg, Virginia, the university calls itself ‘the largest private nonprofit university in the country’ and ‘the biggest Christian university in the world’. Although a majority of the 100,000+ students enrolled at the university take online classes, 13,000 students are enrolled as residential students; with one of the main things that separates their experiences from those of the online students being the attendance of Convocation.
Held three times a week, Liberty University’s convocation is described as North America’s biggest gathering of Christian students. The convocation made the news earlier in the year as the site of Republican senator Ted Cruz’s announcement that he was going to run for President. The video of Cruz’s announcement shows a large body of people cheering and clapping for him, and makes it apparent that he has a large amount of supporters. The impact is lessened a bit when you learn that the Liberty students are required to go to convocation, in that particular instance they were faced with a $10 fine if they didn’t attend.
The university was in the news again last week, with university president Jerry Falwell Jr. responding to the San Bernardino shootings by taking the stance traditionally held by the evangelical Christian right-wing that taking away gun rights is not the answer. In fact, at last Friday’s convocation, Fallwell Jr. urged students to carry a weapon on them, and to enrol in the a course to get one’s pistol permit that the school would offer free of charge. His reasoning behind this was:
If more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed them.
He has since retracted from the generalization of Muslims used in this quote, but hasn’t backed down from his general message. Furthermore, although he received a fair amount of criticism for this in some sectors of the media, the right-wing media supported him on this issue.
The argument Fallwell Jr. is making is one of the more common ones when it comes to gun rights as they pertain to mass shootings. The ideology behind the argument is that if more people had concealed carry permits, and had guns on them, the more likely it would be that people with the intention to kill would be stopped by these card-carrying gun owners. While I was personally a bit skeptical on the issue, the Washington Post documents several incidents where this has occurred, at a rate of about one per year over the past eight years. It leads me to wonder how that compares to the amount of mass shootings that would have simply not happened if with much stricter gun laws, the killer wouldn’t be able to access a weapon in the first place.
And although President Obama has advocated for stronger background checks and gun safety laws, this hasn’t changed the stance of people like Fallwell Jr., who’s since doubled down on his stance towards guns. At the last convocation of the semester, Fallwell Jr. announced that he was getting rid of a policy that prevented students from carrying firearms in their dorm rooms. Previously, students, faculty, and staff with permits were allowed to carry firearms on campus, but they were not allowed in residence halls.
It is in the interest of safety that Fallwell Jr. has allowed for this policy to be changed; students have complained that should they ever need their guns, they might be too far away from them if students had to keep them in their cars.
Liberty University is seen by politicians as an important place; a hotbed of young, Republican, evangelical Christians. It’s no surprise that during his presidential campaign in 2012, Republican nominee Mitt Romney delivered the commencement address for graduating students at the university. If Fallwell Jr. is to be believed, and his decision to allow guns in residence halls came after students requested it in large numbers, there are still large amounts of young people in favor of more gun rights. After all, the best way to counteract a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun, right?
If you disagree with that sentiment, Liberty University might not be the place for you.