The Knox Report

From the Firearms Coalition


The Pen is Mightier…


 and More Dangerous


By Jeff Knox

(May 6, 2008) When Steven Barber turned in his midterm creative writing assignment at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise (UVA-Wise), he was hoping for a good grade to complement his 3.9 grade point average.  Instead, Barber was expelled from school, locked in a mental institution for three days, and had his concealed carry permit revoked. 

 Barber’s fictional story was a first person narrative of a troubled college student consumed by depression, paranoia, drug addiction, and alcoholism as he struggles with one of tragedy’s recurrent themes, “To be or not to be.”  The character progresses through fear, anger, and despair; sleeping with a gun under his pillow after the Virginia Tech massacre, contemplating the murder of an unpleasant professor, and finally deciding on suicide.  The entire story is just contemplation – no characters, real or fictional were harmed in the telling of the story – and Barber himself is nothing like the character he described.

                But Barber’s professor, Christopher Scalia, son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and some of the class members were uncomfortable with the story.  No one complained about another student’s paper which included violent, bloody murder, but that carnage was carried out with a knife while Barber’s character had a gun.  Perhaps someone in the class knew that Barber owned guns and feared that the character in the story represented its author’s secret desires.  Whatever their motivation, their concerns were shared with the college administration who decided to involve the campus police.  Within 24 hours of sharing his writing project, Barber was confronted by campus police who questioned him about his frame of mind, searched his person and his room, and asked him about weapons.  Barber, believing he had Virginia law on his side, admitted that he did have three pistols locked in his car whereupon the police searched the car and confiscated the guns.   

A Navy veteran and Virginia Concealed Handgun Permit holder, Barber cooperated with the police and administration through all of the searches and questions even when they took him into custody and transported him to a mental hospital for three days of evaluation.  After three days of questions, group therapy, tests, and more questions, Barber was given a clean bill of health and released on his own recognizance.  Meanwhile his Concealed Weapons Permit had been revoked and he was expelled from the university.

Eventually the guns were turned over to Barber’s father, but his appeal of the expulsion was denied and even though the prosecutor who rushed through an emergency revocation of the concealed carry permit admits that it was based on faulty information, Barber has not been able to get it reinstated.  The prosecutor says that he based his request for the permit revocation on information from the campus police stating that Barber had been “involuntarily committed” when in fact he had simply been detained for observation and evaluation.  Such a detention is not lawful grounds for the revocation of a permit, especially when the evaluation results in a clean bill of health.  When questioned about the error, the prosecutor laid the blame on the campus police for using the wrong terminology, but went on to say that he intended to find some other mechanism to justify his actions and insure that Barber’s permit is not restored.

There is no question that Barber violated school policy by having firearms in his locked car on campus, but he broke no laws.  There is some disagreement about a college or university’s right to prohibit firearms, particularly in locked cars.  Virginia law forbids any government agency or entity from restricting firearms – even within the State Capitol – but makes an exception for colleges and universities to apply restrictions to staff and students.  Barber contends that those restrictions can not extend to a locked car on campus whether it belongs to a student or not, but so far that contention has fallen on deaf ears.  Barber would like to hire an attorney to challenge the school’s position, regain admission to the university, and recoup his lost credit hours.  He also needs an attorney to help him get his carry permit back, but the cost involved for these endeavors is beyond Barber’s ability to manage and no offer of assistance has been forthcoming from any of the organizations with the wherewithal to provide it.

At this point Barber is working to pay off the unexpectedly due student loans for the education that was unexpectedly preempted and considering reenlisting in the Navy to help get his life back on track.  He is hopeful that he will eventually be able to recover his carry permit, but has all but given up hope of forcing the school to reinstate him.  It is simply tragic that this young man’s future has been derailed all because he wrote a story that was just a little too compelling for an education system which believes tools instigate actions rather than the other way around.


Permission to reprint or post this article in its entirety is hereby granted provided this credit is included.  Text is available at www.FirearmsCoalition.org.  To receive The Firearms Coalition’s bi-monthly newsletter, The Hard Corps Report, write to PO Box 3313, Manassas, VA  20108. 

©Copyright 2008 Neal Knox Associates