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Bill would allow private schools to set gun rules

Del. Mark Cole is proposing to let private or religious schools decide whether guns can be carried on their property.

Cole, R–Spotsylvania, has filed a bill for the upcoming 2014 General Assembly session that would make it no longer a crime to possess a knife or other weapon or a firearm on private or religious school property, or on school buses owned by those private schools.

Currently state law makes it illegal for anyone except a law enforcement officer to have a weapon or firearm on any school property, public or private, with some exceptions for people with concealed handgun permits who are in vehicles, or firearms that are locked in vehicles.

Cole said he doesn’t think the state should regulate weapons policies for private schools.

“I just think on private property, it should be up to the property owners or the people who run the school to make a decision whether they want to let guns on their property or not,” Cole said. “The state should not really dictate that for private property.”

It’s unclear whether Cole’s bill, if passed, would change things at some local private schools.

Officials at both Fredericksburg Christian Schools and Fredericksburg Academy said the issue wasn’t one that had come up at their schools.

“We are working very closely with the Spotsylvania County’s emergency response team, to ensure that we’re best prepared in the event of any crisis on campus,” said Karen Moschetto, Fredericksburg Academy’s head of school. “Even if a bill like that were passed, I would continue to work with them because they would be the ones who would be on our campus.”

She said that if the bill passed, the school’s board would have to decide about any policy changes it wanted to make.

In the 2013 session, Cole had a bill that allowed private schools to hire armed security guards. Many public schools have sheriff’s deputies or police officers as school resource officers, but that wasn’t available to private schools, Cole said, and the laws about weapons on school property barred private schools from hiring their own armed guards until his bill passed.

School security was a big issue in the 2013 session, coming as it did after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. State lawmakers put more money into a grant program for school resource officers for public schools.

Cole said his bill isn’t prompted by any particular incidents at private schools. He has, however, had the issue brought to him by some private schools, and put in this bill at the request of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a group that regularly lobbies against firearm restrictions.

VCDL president Philip Van Cleave said Cole’s bill keeps intact penalties for anyone who brings a weapon or firearm onto school grounds with intent to harm.

“If you think about it, why is the state telling a private school what they should do for security? What business does the state have doing that?” Van Cleave said.

The 2014 General Assembly session starts Jan. 8.

Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028


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