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Military surplus weapons sent to Virginia college campuses

Protests in Ferguson, MO - August 13, 2014

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WTKR) — The same military-surplus program that has sent more than 300 M-16 battlefield rifles to local police departments has also sent the weapons to local colleges.

A state-police database obtained by NewsChannel 3 shows the College of William and Mary and Old Dominion University have received fully automatic M-16s through the same surplus program at the center of scrutiny in Ferguson, Mo.

There, as police clashed with protesters angered over the shooting death of a teen, officers appeared outfitted with guns, vests, uniforms and equipment meant for the battlefield, but gifted as surplus to police.

Documents from William and Mary show the college asked for the M-16s to protect dignitaries and to combat terrorism. The campus police, like other agencies, was attracted to the no-cost weapons as a way to keep spending down.

“They acquired these weapons from the state, for free, then all we had to do was pay for the training and the ammunition,” said acting police chief Ed Schardein.

That acquisition happened before Schardein was appointed, he said. However once the guns arrived, Schardein said it was clear the extra training needed, and the rifles’ limited usefulness, made them more trouble than they were worth.

“My concerns about deploying a fully automatic rifle are just that, it is a fully automatic rifle,” he said. “I don’t see the need for a fully automatic rifle on a campus.”

It’s a different story at Old Dominion University. The Norfolk college’s surplus shopping list included M-16s, shotguns, combat knee pads and elbow pads, ballistic goggles, shields, and metal batons.

ODU officials could not find the paperwork justifying all this, but a spokeswoman said the campus police once had a SWAT-style team. It disbanded, and some of the guns were given away. The campus police chief, Rhonda Harris, said the remaining rifles were converted to semiautomatic, meaning they can’t shoot like machine guns. Officers still have access to them.

According to records supplied by state police, no other local college or university has requested military weapons. Claire Gastanagna of the American Civil Liberties Union said it is trouble enough that so many city and county police forces have gobbled up this military gear. She says there is no place for it on campus.

“The idea that the police force that is on campus needs both the that ability and that equipment, I don`t see it,” she said.

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