VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Responding to concerns from students, the administration at Regent University has lifted a decades-old ban on pepper spray as a device for personal protection.

“It just blew my mind that there would be a ban on pepper spray,” said Ezra Gingerich, the head of Young Americans for Liberty on the Regent campus and chair for the organization in Virginia. YAL champions personal liberty among other causes, and felt students should be able to protect themselves with pepper spray.

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“It’s one of the most effective yet non-lethal tools out there,” Gingerich said. He and another YAL member, Sofia Justus, are seniors at Regent.

“I did not feel safe as a young woman,” Justus said. “The dorms are a good walk away from any of the classroom buildings and the Comms building. A little can of pepper spray would go a long way to making me feel like I’m safe on campus.”

Regent’s chief of police Chris Mitchell says the ban on pepper spray had been in place since the founding of the university in 1977. Gingerich and Justus believe one of the reasons why it remained was a concern by the administration about potential litigation should someone be harmed by potential misuse. Mitchell says that was a consideration but not the main motivation for lifting the ban.

Mitchell was part of the decision making process to permit pepper spray, effective with this semester. He says the ultimate decision came down to Regent Chancellor Pat Robertson.

“We just felt that it would be a positive move forward to support our students, especially those that voiced concerns, and to give a greater sense of community safety,” Mitchell said.

Here’s the updated section in the student handbook:
“Members of the Regent University community may possess one authorized canister of pepper spray on campus for the sole purpose of self-defense. Authorized pepper spray canisters must be no larger than four ounces in size. Individuals who misuse or abuse pepper spray on campus will be in violation of this policy and subject to the student adjudication process or employee discipline as appropriate. “Misuse or abuse” includes intentional discharge that is not for reasonable self-defense, as well as accidental discharge.”

The police chief says he’s seen very few cases of personal or sexual violence in his 20 years at Regent. “I could probably count them on my two hands the number of cases that have gone to prosecution.”

But students tell a different story. “I do know of people who have been victims of sexual assault, and not just sexual assault but different types of assault in the dorms,” Justus said.

Justus says she’ll feel more secure now that she can carry her pepper spray with her. She wasted no time arming herself once the decision to permit pepper spray happened.

“It wasn’t five minutes later that I thought to myself, I can put my pepper spray on my keychain now.”

Gingerich credits the Regent administration for listening to students’ concerns and is proud of what YAL accomplished.

Mitchell says his department will communicate with students how to use pepper spray safely and effectively, and warns those who might consider any kind of violence on campus.

“I tell every student that we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law. You don’t touch my students, period,” he said.