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WVU expresses concern as Campus Carry gun bill appears up for revival

Campus Carry may be back before the Legislature.

Four bills allowing people with concealed carry permits to carry on higher education campuses have been introduced this session, and on Thursday morning, WVU President Gordon Gee shared his concerns with The Dominion Post that one of them may be coming before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Obviously, we’re very concerned,” Gee said. “We have one of the really, truly safe campuses in this country. We have a wonderful university police force. The Morgantown police have been very responsive to any of the needs that we have had. There’s been no reason whatsoever to think about even having a campus carry bill or a campus carry program on our campus.

“I have personally been opposed to Campus Carry, and I know that our university family – the majority of our faculty, staff and students have certainly been opposed,” Gee said.

Later in the day, WVU sent out a press release saying Gee also sent a letter to state senators about the issue.

“Providing a safe learning environment for students is the supreme responsibility of any university,” he said in the letter. “For that reason, West Virginia University opposes these pieces of legislation … We believe that deadly weapons have no place on our campuses, except in the hands of law enforcement personnel or others authorized by the University.

“Young adults, who comprise most of our 30,000 students, are still developing emotionally and often engage in conduct that would be made significantly more dangerous by concealed weapons,” the letter says, “In this environment, the right to carry concealed guns can increase chances of homicide and suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college-age young adults. At a time when we are seeing more students facing mental health challenges and needing additional mental healthcare, now is not the time to insert firearms into what are already trying situations on campus.”

The letter says that the presence of guns may have a chilling effect on the free exchange of ideas on campus. WVU does currently permit guns on campus in some situations, always with awareness and oversight by the University Police Department.

Gee told The Dominion Post that campus gun issues are best left to the board of governors to decide. “That’s the reason we have a board of governors – to make good policed for the university … We would hope that our legislative friends would listen carefully to the rationale and the reasons why they should not have a campus carry bill passed.”

Campus Carry occupied much attention during the 2019 legislative session. That year’s bill, HB 2519, generated hours of debate and drew crowds of university leaders, students, faculty and law enforcement from across the state to the Capitol to make their opposition known.

After a long dramatic Crossover Day day in the House that year – the last day for bills have to leave their house of origin and go to the other side – HB 2519 appeared to be dead several times, only to rise again and narrowly pass 58-41.

A few days later it died in Senate Judiciary when two Republicans sided with the Democrats to kill it.

This year, it appears that Senate Judiciary will revive it, according to WVU. The Dominion Post contacted the Senate press office to speak with chair Charles Trump, R-Morgan, but he was unavailable on Thursday. A Friday conversation is hoped for.

Three of the four bills in the system – two Senate, two House – carry the same name as the 2019 bill: the Campus Self Defense Act. The 2019 bill contained 12 exceptions, including at events in sports stadiums and arenas, in daycares, dorm rooms and patient care areas.

WVU’s letter to the senators expresses concern that some of the current bills lack those exceptions. SB 246, which WVU believes may be the bill that comes before Judiciary, does have them.

One big difference between 2019 and this year is that the Capitol is closed to the public this year because of COVID. In 2019, concerned citizens packed the committee rooms and protested outside the Senate chamber.

Asked about that, Gee said, “I’m not certain how that will affect what is happening,” but university leadership has been in contact with the senators and will continue to express strong opposition.

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