Liberty University, located in Lynchburg, Virginia, already permits students to carry firearms on campus, and last year, President Jerry Falwell Jr. encouraged students to obtain their concealed-carry licenses through a college course.
Now, the evangelical university is taking the next logical step: Liberty will soon become the first U.S. college to build a National Rifle Association-approved firing range on campus.
A proposal was filed last week for a special permit from the Campbell County Planning Commission, and it states that Liberty wants to build a "nationally recognized, full-scale shooting, training and competition center" on campus. According to Yahoo News, the outdoor facility will include a pistol range, a rifle range, an instructional area and a three-gun competition range. The school plans to eventually add an indoor firing range.
Liberty spokesman Len Stevens told Yahoo that the firing range project was introduced last year during NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre's visit. He said the gun-lobbying organization has "generously offered their expertise to help us develop it."
Stevens said the range was inspired, in part, by the success of Liberty's handgun safety course.
"We’ve had nearly 900 students go through the class since we first started it nearly two years ago," he said. "The present facility has been deemed antiquated and ill-suited for that number of students by university leadership."
The decision to build the nation's first on-campus range comes after Liberty chose last spring to lift its ban on guns in dorm rooms — a policy shift approved by the college's board of trustees. Falwell told students during a convocation appearance last December that the change came "at your request."
Students complained the old policy kept them from accessing their guns quickly if necessary because it required firearms to be kept in vehicles.
"As Liberty built more residence halls, our residents were having to park further from their rooms," David Corry, Liberty's general counsel, told Yahoo, adding that students said they "would feel safer if they didn’t have to leave their weapons locked in their glove compartments when walking from their cars to the residence halls, especially at night."
Corry went on to say the university researched some 70 other campuses with similar concealed carry rules. "All had policies in place with no incident," he said.
But not everyone likes the idea of guns on Liberty's campus. Gun control advocate Rob Schenck, president of Faith in Action, a Washington, D.C.-based Christian outreach organization, called the idea of a gun range "morally reckless."
Liberty has said they intend to make sure all students feel safe and comfortable amid the controversial policy change.
"No one has to have a roommate with a gun in their room if they are uncomfortable with it," Corry said. "Everyone in a room has to agree for concealed carry to be permitted by a dorm resident and a [gun] safe installed in their room."