WHEELING - Bethany College President Scott Miller joined two other West Virginia college administrators - and more than 300 nationwide - to sign an open letter calling on lawmakers to enact stricter gun control regulations in the wake of the Dec. 14 shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The tragedy took on a deeper meaning for the small college of about 1,000 students when the campus learned that 6-year-old Caroline Previdi, daughter of 1994 Bethany graduate Jeff Previdi, was among the 20 students killed when Adam Lanza opened fire inside the school that morning. That, Miller said, was one of the reasons he felt it was important to place his name among those urging continued discussion over America's gun laws.
"We're a particularly close, small college community," Miller said. "While the Sandy Hook massacre was emotional for the entire nation, it was even more devastating to the Bethany community because of the way it affected one of us."
The letter, which can be read in its entirety at collegepresidentsforgunsafety.org, calls on lawmakers to oppose legislation allowing guns on college campuses and in school classrooms; close the so-called "gun show loophole" that proponents of gun control argue allow people to purchase guns without a criminal background check; ban "military-style" semi-automatic weapons; and tighten consumer safety standards, including requiring safety locks for all guns.
According to Miller, the effort gathered steam following the Sandy Hook tragedy among a nationwide email network of college administrators and was solidified when the Council of Independent Colleges met earlier this month in Florida. But Miller said even though the Newtown shooting put "an exclamation point" on the issue and galvanized college leaders to try and use their positions as higher education leaders to enact change, the letter - which bore the signatures of 326 administrators from 40 states as of Monday - is more than an emotional reaction to a tragedy.
"Most of us have expressed our opinions on the matter in the past - well-thought out opinions," he said.
Miller also has signed two other related letters, including one to President Barack Obama originated by Emerson College President M. Lee Pelton and another seeking to protect colleges' rights to ban guns from their campuses. He noted he believes he's the only college president to sign all three.
Miller maintains it is possible to strike a balance between stronger gun laws and protecting Americans' constitutional rights.
"I respect an individual's rights through the Second Amendment to protect their homes and for their own safety, but the semi-automatic assault weapons and the high-capacity ammunition magazines just are not necessary to do that," he said. "Many of these weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people through things like the gun show loophole, and we need tighter restrictions on that."
Bethany, which is a private institution, has a zero-tolerance policy concerning firearms on campus, and students or staff who are caught carrying guns are subject to expulsion or termination, Miller said.
"We have 1,300 acres here, and we do not allow hunting on campus, on any of our campus properties. ... We want to preserve our lands for our students to be able to walk the trails, sit in the woods, enjoy the trees in a safe environment," he said, noting students who enjoy hunting can check their guns at the nearby Brooke County Sportsman Club on McAdoo Ridge Road and take advantage of the club's 189 acres set aside for hunting.
Other West Virginia college administrators who have signed the letter are University of Charleston President Ed Welch and Davis & Elkins College Chancellor Michael Mihalyo, a former dean of faculty at Bethany.