Campus Self-Defense Act considered by House Judiciary Committee


Photo courtesy of WV Legislative Photography

From left, Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, and House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, listen during a public hearing on the education omnibus bill Feb. 12 in Charleston, West Virginia.

If implemented, a bill under consideration by the West Virginia state House Judiciary Committee would permit individuals officially licensed to carry a concealed firearm to do so on the campus of a state institution of higher education.

House Bill 2519, or the Campus Self-Defense Act, was introduced Jan. 18 and has 11 official Republican sponsors.

Members of the Marshall University community, including President Jerry Gilbert, have noted their hesitation toward the proposal.

“We are very concerned right now about the campus carry bill,” Gilbert said. “These are young people, not that it makes any difference if they are young or old, but they are concentrated in an environment that is much different than the general public. They are housed and congregated in locations, and there are situations that can arise on a college campus where tempers can flare and you can have people that may do things in haste, and to have firearms in that situation, I think it’s very dangerous.”

While the bill includes some exceptions from the regulation, such as formal disciplinary hearings and daycare facilities, firearms would be permitted in classrooms, residencies and other public spaces on campus.

Gilbert said his primary concern is for the safety of the students.

“I don’t want to put our students in harm’s way, or our faculty or staff,” Gilbert said. “There are places where there can be guns, or some people would say should be guns, but there are places where there shouldn’t be. For instance, they don’t allow guns in the Legislature for the very same reasons that we wouldn’t want them on campus.”

Chris White, professor of history at Marshall and former U.S. Marine, also said he believes firearms do not belong on the campus of an institution of higher education

“The responsibility of carrying a gun in public should not be taken lightly,” White said. “There’s a reason why military and police have to undergo a firearm qualification process. That training instills core values into an individual about safety, accuracy, and the rules of engagement. Why would we want people on campus with guns without that training?”

Student Body President Hunter Barclay said he and members of the student senate are researching studies from other states with similar policies.

“Whether students support or oppose this legislation, I know that we are all concerned about preserving the safety of Marshall’s students even though many of us share different philosophies on what is the best way to go about it,” Barclay said. “As the leader of 13,000 plus students, I realize the importance of taking an educated stance and the gravity of my words.”

Barclay said while the debate is not a new issue, it is critical to him to make a statement that is representative of the student body.

“I want to make sure that my words to elected officials in Charleston are based on evidence and the opinions of Marshall’s elected leaders: leaders from both the SGA executive and legislative branches,” Barclay said. 

Marshall’s Faculty Senate has adopted four resolutions over the years in attempt to keep campus safety regulation within the hands of the Board of Governors.

Committee members had a public hearing in the House Chamber Monday to address the proposal.

Hanna Pennington can be contacted at [email protected].