The Roanoke Higher Education Authority Board of Trustees revised its weapons policy Wednesday to include a ban on concealed carry at the Roanoke Higher Education Center.
Board members voted 9-2 to adopt the new policy. Dels. Chris Head, R-Botetourt, and Charles Poindexter, R-Franklin, cast the opposing votes.
The policy prohibits the possession of weapons on the center’s campus, or in any vehicles parked in parking spaces immediately adjacent to campus buildings. The policy includes guns, knives, tear gas and other weapons. Small knives used for job duties, such as box cutters, are excluded. The policy applies to the center’s employees, students, tenants and all other visitors.
Anyone found to have violated the rule will be asked to immediately remove the item from the prohibited area and won’t be permitted to return while in possession of a weapon. Violations could result in calls to law enforcement or employee discipline.
The center’s ban doesn’t include parking facilities not owned by the center.
Officials had discussed a new weapons policy for months. Its approval comes amid a renewed conversation about safety in public buildings and other spaces prompted by a shooting at a municipal building in Virginia Beach last Friday that left 12 dead.
The higher education center partners with colleges and universities to offer educational programs, and provides job training and workforce development initiatives. State funding covers the majority of the center’s operating expenses.
The main campus building is in the 100 block of North Jefferson Street in downtown Roanoke. It has 57 classrooms, a testing center and other amenities. In addition to space for programs, the building houses offices for several colleges and universities and other entities. The campus also includes the Claude Moore Education Complex at 109 North Henry St.
The previous campus weapons policy, adopted in 2015, prohibited the open carry of weapons but did not address concealed carry. Kay Dunkley, the center’s executive director, said the executive committee moved to address the policy over the past year to align with the rules in other educational and public facilities across the U.S.
Mike Gardner, an attorney with Woods Rogers PLC, consulted the executive committee and helped craft the new policy. Gardner presented the proposal to the board Wednesday and answered questions.
Board members asked about the policy, and the building’s current safety measures. “What would happen if someone got past security and had a gun?” asked Charles Price, board president of the Harrison Museum of African American Culture.
Dunkley said the campus has a lockdown procedure and conducts drills with first responders.
Poindexter noted that the center’s security staff is not armed. “The truth is today, if someone enters this building … and starts an incident, we’re dependent on a police response time. This policy would not provide for any self-defense in the way of weapons,” Poindexter said.
Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, who serves as the board’s chairman, said Dunkley could authorize the arming of security officers.
Board member Lorraine Lange, a former Roanoke County Public Schools superintendent, said the board should further discuss armed security. “If somebody comes in, like what was happening in Virginia Beach … they’re going to start firing, and within four minutes, 10 people could be dead,” Lange said.
Dunkley suggested creating a subcommittee of board members and campus tenants to explore the option.
Prior to voting on the weapons policy, Head questioned whether studies had been conducted to show that similar rules had prevented tragedies or contained devastation in other places.
“My feeling is, and concern is, this is something that gets put into place that makes people feel better but doesn’t really accomplish anything,” Head said.
Gardner said he’s not aware of analysis that examines the crime rates or other statistics of entities with similar weapons policies versus those without. Historically, similar policies have been enacted by employers in the private sector to address concerns of workplace violence, Gardner said.
“Nobody thinks a written policy is going to solve all the problems,” Edwards said, later in the meeting. “Somebody could come rushing in here and start spraying bullets everywhere. But it does give us authority we don’t now have. … You can ask the person, please leave, and if they don’t, it’s trespass.”
Edwards also pointed to similar policies on the campuses of other schools, such as Virginia Tech and Virginia Western Community College, as reason to support the policy.