Citing “gun violence,” the University of Virginia has canceled the 21-gun salute portion of its Veterans Day ceremony, an annual tradition that dates back at least a decade.
In a statement posted to social media on Saturday, university President James Ryan stated the reason was two-fold: “to minimize disruptions to classes, given that this event is located at the juncture of four primary academic buildings and is held at a time that classes are in session; and second, recognizing concerns related to firing weapons on the Grounds in light of gun violence that has happened across our nation, especially on school and university campuses.”
According to the local ABC news affiliate WHSV, the annual ceremony “marks the conclusion of a 24-hour vigil by ROTC cadets and has included the 21-gun salute for more than a decade,” but the decision to nix the salute was made by the provost’s office in conjunction with the colonel of UVA’s ROTC program.
Backlash has been so severe Ryan said the university will revisit the issue in 2020.
“[C]ommunity responses have helped us to understand that many see the 21-gun salute as an important element of the Veterans Day ceremony at the University of Virginia. Given that the plans are already in place for this year, we will follow the event organizers’ recommendation to proceed without the 21-gun salute in our Veterans Day Ceremony. Following this year’s ceremony, however, we will work with our ROTC officers and cadets to take a closer look at options for our Veterans Day events, including those that would enable us to re-introduce the 21-gun salute to the program,” Ryan stated.
According to media outlets in Virginia, the decision prompted anger. The Daily Progress, the newspaper in Charlottesville, Virginia, published several letters to the editor lambasting the decision.
One letter argued that the decision disrespected the fact that the university’s rotunda hosts plaques honoring hundreds of alumni slain in previous wars. Another argued “veterans deserve better.”
The decision also sent “an unfortunate message about students: That they are too fragile, too delicate, too distractible to deal with the ‘interruption’ of the salute. That they are too insular, too wrapped up in their own worlds to comprehend and accept this longstanding practice. That they must be protected from the reality that exists outside academia,” another letter writer chimed in.
Some Twitter users responding to Ryan’s statement were a little more blunt. Among them: “How ‘we’ reached the decision? The buck stops with you. Score one for the snowflakes.”
Tweeted another: “As a @UVA #UVA student veteran, thank you for marginalizing my community. That is a direct, unmitigated slap in the face to those of us who have served, and especially to those of us who have served and lost. I am deeply sorry that you decided to make this incorrect decision.”
However Ryan garnered some support, too, with one replying “people forget that rampant mass shootings are commonplace now, so it makes sense not to be firing off guns near classrooms,” and another noting that “as a long-ago alumna, I want you to know how much you continue to impress. You do our university and your role proud.”