Potential Accidents Spark Fear After Campus Carry Law Passes

Dr. Chris White

Charlie Bowen

Dr. Chris White

Chance Gunther and Sean Kelly

Accidents are the biggest concern surrounding students carrying handguns on campus because most  students don’t have the proper training to handle firearms safely, a former Marine and current history professor said last week. 

“Accidents happen on military bases where it is a controlled environment and everyone has proper training,” Dr. Chris White told a Marshall journalism class on Thursday, Mar. 23.  

 “Most college students don’t have the proper training, and a college campus is not a controlled environment,” he said. 

The new “Campus Self-Defense Act,” which will permit handguns to be carried on any West Virginia college campus when it goes into effect in July 2024, has only minimal institutional safeguards in place—that would not qualify to be used in the military or law enforcement, White said.  

All that is required in the new law for a student to carry a handgun on campus is a West Virginia concealed handgun license, which entails a written test, a background check and a short live fire course. 

By contrast, Marine recruits must train for five weeks—840 hours—under constant surveillance before firing live rounds. To White, this illustrates what he believes the campus carry bill lacks. 

While the new laws include some exemptions about where students can carry weapons, it has little on the types of precautions that were routine in his experience with the Marines, White said.  

“If you look at this bill for words like ‘safety,’ you won’t find much,” he said. 

The new law does refer to “safes”  but only as storage facilities for on-campus firearms, and even they don’t meet military standards, said White. He also noted that for Marines, weapons are kept unloaded in armories that are guarded at all times and checked constantly.  

White went on to say the state’s new gun law could have benefitted from the addition of provisions for a required sign-in sheet or guards for stored handguns on campus. 

Besides accidents, White said he has another concern. He said college campuses can be stressful places, and wider access to handguns could cause more problems than it solves. 

“West Virginia has one of the highest suicide rates in the country,” he said, “and with more guns added to our college campuses, suicides may increase as well.” 

While White spoke in opposition to the gun bill during a public hearing in Charleston earlier this month, he said he also sees some positives in the law.  

“I believe it will spark a lot of interests and debates and get people talking about it, which is always a good thing,” he said, adding that he thinks both sides in the guns debate want to protect the people on college campuses. “We just have a different way of going about it.” 

Now that the bill was signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice earlier this month,  the goal is “creating a culture of gun safety,” White said. 

Whether through a campus safety research group or through a class such as the one he taught after the 2018 Parkland school shooting in Florida, White said students and staff need to educate themselves and others about firearms. 

“This is an opportunity,” he said, “ for us to evaluate our preconceived notions about guns and learn more about what it means to have guns in a public space.”