Under current statutes in West Virginia, college campuses remain an exception for places one can visit and conceal carry a weapon without a permit. Earlier this month, the West Virginia Senate introduced article HB2519, to change this and create what is commonly referred to as “campus carry.”
Texas passed similar legislation in 2015, and many advocates believe gun owners were being barred from their second amendment rights while on a college campus. Advocates also say students may need to defend themselves if a shooting occurs, and current rules would not allow this.
Those opposed to the legislation say the change will make college campuses a more dangerous environment. The safety risks outweigh the positives, and the logistical challenges of students owning guns on campus would be finically costly.
Although it was met with protests at colleges across the state, the bill initially passed the West Virginia House of Delegates in 2019 but failed narrowly in the Senate. Since then, it has been reintroduced, and the timeline on when the vote will occur is still uncertain. The bill has had general support from most republican members and seemingly unanimous opposition from democrats. However, it should be noted multiple republicans broke with party lines in 2019 to stop the advancement of the bill.
“We are confident that if we follow the example set forth by Mississippi and others that we can implement this safely and effectively. We understand that there will be those that set out to do harm regardless of laws and wish that those who are responsible gun owners have the right to defend themselves without fear of breaking the law,” said Jonathan McCormick, the advisor for College Republicans at Marshall University.
The bill has been met with strong opposition on colleges and university campuses throughout the state, including Marshall University President Dr. Jerome Gilbert and Marshall University Police Chief Jim Terry. “It’s just not a good idea. It’s a safety concern for us,” said Chief Terry in an interview. Beyond the safety concerns of students owning guns on campus, Terry mentioned the added cost and the complications it would cause for the university and referenced the University of Texas at Austin forced to designate entire floors of residence halls as “armed floors.” President Gilbert has been vocal about his opposition to the bill and recently wrote an op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
“People on college campuses do not need to be carrying firearms. They are not necessary on our campuses and pose a threat to the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff. Contrary to what some people believe, on balance, the risk to our safety certainly outweighs any perceived added protection from carrying a gun,” Gilbert said in the piece. “If they are going to pass this, are they going to pass the same thing in the capitol? My only concern is to let us decide, let the student body decide, let the faculty decide, the student government associations decide. It should be an individual campus choice.”
The Parthenon attempted to contact five members of the House of Delegates, four Republicans and one Democrat, representing the Huntington area to know whether these delegates would be supporting the legislation. None have answered requests for a statement or an interview.
Chief Terry and President Gilbert have both mentioned their support for the second amendment and their ownership of guns themselves, despite their opposition to this bill. Terry commented about his lifelong love of hunting and how he had bought his son a handgun for his 21st birthday.
“But there are some places you just shouldn’t have guns,” Terry said.
Other universities, including West Virginia University and their president E. Gordon Gee, have additionally been vocal in their opposition to the bill.
It is still yet to be determined if the bill has gathered enough support in both West Virginia legislature houses. Still, it is clear that both opponents and advocates in the state will continue to debate the bill’s advancement until a final resolution is determined.
Tyler Spence can be contacted at [email protected]