Gun Shy

After the Virginia Tech tragedy, even talking about concealed carry is grounds for suspension

Sipping soda from a straw and leaning on his elbows at Perkins, Troy Scheffler seems harmless enough. The 31-year-old Hamline University grad student resembles a post-Pulp Fiction John Travolta—slightly overstuffed, with graying sideburns and a small, tense smile. It's easy to imagine him hitting on a girl at a dance club.

But Scheffler is packing heat. A gun-toting concealed carry permit holder, he rarely leaves home without his sidearm. He feels safer in the rough areas of town when he's armed, though he knows not everyone feels safe around him. A couple of days ago, he got pulled over for speeding. When the cop noticed the concealed carry permit, he ordered Scheffler out of the car, patted him down, and searched his car.

"A clear violation of my Fourth Amendment rights," Scheffler says with an exasperated chuckle, referring to the constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

It wasn't the first time Scheffler's gun got him into trouble.

On April 16, colleges were rocked by the news coming out of Virginia Tech. Initial reports were sketchy and confused, but by the end of the day a clear picture emerged: An angry and deranged Seung-Hui Cho had killed 32 students and faculty before turning his gun on himself in the largest mass shooting in American history.

In the aftermath, officials at Hamline University sought to comfort their 4,000 students. David Stern, the vice president for academic and student affairs, sent a campus-wide email offering extra counseling sessions for those who needed help coping.

Scheffler had a different opinion of how the university should react. Using the email handle "Tough Guy Scheffler," Troy fired off his response: Counseling wouldn't make students feel safer, he argued. They needed protection. And the best way to provide it would be for the university to lift its recently implemented prohibition against concealed weapons.

"Ironically, according to a few VA Tech forums, there are plenty of students complaining that this wouldn't have happened if the school wouldn't have banned their permits a few months ago," Scheffler wrote. "I just don't understand why leftists don't understand that criminals don't care about laws; that is why they're criminals. Maybe this school will reconsider its repression of law-abiding citizens' rights."

After stewing over the issue for two days, Scheffler sent a second email to University President Linda Hanson, reiterating his condemnation of the concealed carry ban and launching into a flood of complaints about campus diversity initiatives, which he considered reverse discrimination.

"In fact, three out of three students just in my class that are 'minorities' are planning on returning to Africa and all three are getting a free education on my dollar," Scheffler wrote with thinly veiled ire. "Please stop alienating the students who are working hard every day to pay their tuition. Maybe you can instruct your staff on sensitivity towards us 'privileged white folk.'"

After clicking send, Scheffler didn't think much more about his emails. He'd never felt his conservative views were welcome on campus. In classes, he was often shouted down by students—sometimes even by professors.

But after the Virginia Tech massacre, school administrators across the country were ramping up security. Flip to any cable news channel and you'd hear experts talking about warning signs that had been missed. Cho had a history of threatening behavior and stalking. And a psychological evaluation had deemed him a threat to himself.

So Hamline officials took swift action. On April 23, Scheffler received a letter informing him he'd been placed on interim suspension. To be considered for readmittance, he'd have to pay for a psychological evaluation and undergo any treatment deemed necessary, then meet with the dean of students, who would ultimately decide whether Scheffler was fit to return to the university.

The consequences were severe. Scheffler wasn't allowed to participate in a final group project in his course on Human Resources Management, which will have a big impact on his final grade. Even if he's reinstated, the suspension will go on his permanent record, which could hurt the aspiring law student.

"'Oh, he's the crazy guy that they called the cops on.' How am I supposed to explain that to the Bar Association?" Scheffler asks.

He has also suffered embarrassment. Scheffler obeyed the campus ban and didn't go to class, but his classmate, Kenny Bucholz, told him a police officer was stationed outside the classroom. "He had a gun and everything," Bucholz says. Dean Julian Schuster appeared at the beginning of class to explain the presence of the cop, citing discipline problems with a student. Although Schuster never mentioned Scheffler by name, it didn't take a scholar to see whose desk was empty.

Scheffler has tried to get answers from the university, to no avail. On April 25, he called President Hanson's office to request a meeting, but when he told the secretary his name, she claimed the computer system had crashed and she couldn't access the president's schedule. She promised to call Scheffler back, but more than a week later, he's still waiting.

Hamline administrators were similarly circumspect when a reporter called. School officials declined to be interviewed, citing student privacy concerns. Requests for information were diverted to lawyer Rebecca Bernhard, who said Hamline acted appropriately in light of recent events at Virginia Tech. "Hamline takes campus safety very seriously," she says.

Now Scheffler is looking to hire a lawyer of his own. Even if Hamline lifts the suspension, he doubts he'll return to campus, he says. "If they're going to treat me that way before, how will they treat me after?"

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