The University of Virginia's ban on a 21-gun salute didn't go well

This story began early this month when the University of Virginia decided to cancel their usual 21 gun salute to veterans on Veterans Day. Their reason was a concern that the sound of gunfire could induce “a panic” among students and create fears of gun violence on the campus. (No… really.) The ensuing backlash from veterans, alumni, law enforcement and current students was apparently more than the administration could weather. It was too late for this year’s observances, but University President Jim Ryan issued a statement, saying in part, that “sometimes you make mistakes.” The new policy is being dropped and the traditional salute will return next year. (NBC News)

Although motivated by good intentions, I believe we made a mistake this year in excluding the 21-gun salute from our Veterans Day ceremony. Having attended the ceremony, and having consulted with the Commander in charge, I am confident that we can accommodate a 21-gun salute, which had been a meaningful feature of the ceremony in years past. We will therefore reinstate the 21-gun salute next year, and we will make sure to minimize any disruptions to classes and communicate the details of the ceremony in advance.

Thanks to all who shared their views about this topic, and my sincere apologies to any who may have doubted our commitment to honoring our veterans, whom we hold in the highest esteem and who deserve our gratitude.

As far as I’m concerned, this still leaves us with a few unanswered questions. For example, how did the idea to ban the salute originate? Did President Ryan cook this up all on his own and just announce the decision? Not knowing much about him that’s impossible to say, but it sounds unlikely. Was he pressured by liberal groups on campus and basically pushed into making a more woke decision? He’s remained mum on the subject since then.

One thing I think we can say is that the original reasons given weren’t very good. Anyone hearing three evenly spaced rounds of volleys taking place on Veterans Day who suddenly thinks there’s a mass shooting going on is likely more than a little confused. And if that was his concern, the school could surely have put out a warning in advance so students would be aware it was coming.

While it’s good that Ryan apologized to all the veterans, as Cam Edwards pointed out at Redstate recently, he should have also been apologizing to his students.

Personally, I didn’t see the move by the university as an insult to veterans as much as it was an insult to students, who the university decided to treat as children who couldn’t handle the sound of a rifle volley without freaking out. There were still ceremonies on campus on Veterans Day celebrating and acknowledging those who’ve served, even without the 21-gun salute. In fact, Ryan and the other backers of the ban on the rifle salute made it clear that this wasn’t a move aimed at veterans. I think the university president is being a little disingenuous by now casting this move as something that was seen as anti-veteran, when most of the objections that I saw were from folks angry and upset that the university was taking a reflexively anti-gun position.

Cam makes a valid point here. As long as they were still presenting the rest of the normal, expected honors for veterans, omitting the salute might not have been that big of a deal, particularly if it was dropped quietly without a public announcement about gun scares. There are plenty of Veterans Day celebrations around the country that don’t include the firing of the volleys.

But the way this was handled, the university’s president came off as if he was treating his students like snowflakes who couldn’t handle something completely normal and traditional without collapsing on their fainting couches. And by politicizing the decision with the gun violence message and then turning around and backing down almost immediately, he comes off as an unserious person on this topic and a feckless one to boot.

Either way, I’ll toss in one prediction before closing. Even if the salute wasn’t a topic of bitter dispute on the campus before this happened, it certainly will be now. And some college anti-gun group is almost certainly going to start building pressure over the next year to get Ryan to flip flop on the decision yet again. And if that happens, let’s see how he handles it next time.

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