It’s a farewell to arms at the University of Virginia.
The 200-year-old university founded by the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, abandoned the time-honored tradition to fire a rifle volley to honor our nation’s fallen during this year’s Veterans Day celebration. This decision, reached by the school provost’s office and the colonel of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), is insulting to the veterans the school attempts to honor, cheapens the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in service to our nation and furthers the infantilization of today’s college student bodies.
The university’s President Jim Ryan wrote on Facebook the decision was a consensus to minimize disruptions to classes and “recognizing concerns related to firing weapons on the Grounds in light of gun violence that has happened across our nation, especially on school and university campuses.”
I would like to respectfully disagree, but respect left the campus some time ago.
This is a university that was founded by President Thomas Jefferson who knew the terrible sacrifice our nation’s patriots have made to form and protect our country. Jefferson made his thoughts clear on firearms, whether it was for personal use or in duty to the nation.
“The Constitution of most of our states (and of the United States) assert that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Cartwright, June 5, 1824
The University of Virginia has produced Marine Gen. Robert Magnus, who capped his career as the second-most senior Marine general officer. Air Force Lt. Gen. Ralph E. Havens graduated UVA and later became the commander of the Air University. Navy Vice Admiral Denby H. Starling marched forth from Charlottesville to eventually command the Navy’s Cyber Forces and Naval Network Warfare Command.
The university also produced patriots serving in government on both sides of the aisle. President Franklin D. Roosevelt studied at UVA before later leading America through World War II. Others include former Democratic U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and former Republican Sen. John Warner, who also served as Secretary of the Navy. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) is an alum.
These are all leading figures who understood the cost of a free nation and the importance of honoring those who heed that call. They didn’t hide from the brutal cost of war, including the loss of life. They also held to the certainty that we are indebted to those who served and bear the responsibility to raise the next generation that will answer the clarion’s call. They understood the rifle’s volley, the salute of 21 guns firing, is a solemn tribute, just as important to those who were lost to war as those who stand ready to fill the ranks in defense of freedom.
The firearms industry is proud to have produced the firearms our forces carry forth in protection of our nation and our ideals. We are equally as proud to know the firearms from our factories offer the final honors to those who have laid down their lives in armed service.
The decision to minimize the role of our veterans, our fallen warriors and the firearms they carried is offensive. Those who have borne the cost of war, who have endured the savage violence of the battlefield, know better than any other the desire for peace and the longing for a life free of the horror mankind is capable of waging. They desire nothing less than a life unbound of those burdens for themselves and the next generation.
Sidelining a rifle salute to protect the fragile sensibilities of today’s young adults minimizes their own strength of character to develop the next generation of patriots. The rifle’s crack and the echo of gunfire serve as a reminder not just of the sacrifice, but as an admonition to protect what those in uniform sacrificed to provide.
That gift of freedom and promise of tomorrow was bought with the blood, sweat ad tears of those veterans. It was purchased with the sacrifice of American lives. It was done with the same rifles they banned, the ones our forces carry into battle.
We don’t honor those who ran toward the sound of the guns by erasing them from our consciousness.
Mark Oliva is director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms and ammunition industries. He is a retired Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant with 25 years of service, including tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Albania, and Zaire.