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WVU public advocacy students hold protest against campus carry legislation

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University Master’s of Public Administration students gathered in front of the Mountainlair Tuesday in an effort to bring awareness to campus carry policies. 

“I just imagine the accidents that could happen if half a dozen freshmen had guns,” said Karen Kunz, WVU associate professor of public administration. “It’s just a recipe for disaster.” 

Campus carry bills being discussed in this year’s legislative session include Senate Bill 246, which would allow licensed employees and students to carry concealed weapons on the campus of a public higher education institution. In 2019, the same bill was the topic of many student protests. After passing the House, the bill failed in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

WVU student Shelby Johnson said some of the group’s main concerns when it comes to campus carry is the potential for violence that may come with it. She said her concerns include an increased fear of having controversial discussions within classrooms and an increase in violent crimes on campus.

Christopher Arthur, a student in the program, has been a gun owner the majority of his life. He said although he trusts himself with firearms, he does not believe bringing guns to campus would be a safe option.

“Campus carry is one of those things that it would just open up a whole can of worms that we don’t need to open,” Arthur said.

WVU has expressed similar concerns regarding the legislation. 

On March 11, WVU President E. Gordon Gee wrote a letter to the campus community, stating no less than four bills regarding campus carry have been introduced during the current legislative session, which would restrict the WVU Board of Governors’ ability to regulate the presence of firearms on campus.

“Providing a safe learning environment for students is the supreme responsibility of any university,” Gee wrote. “For that reason, West Virginia University opposes these pieces of legislation, which in varying forms would allow individuals licensed to carry concealed weapons to carry them on college and university campuses.”

Kunz said the students’ goals also include legalization of medical cannabis, focusing on income tax legislation, and implementing a state bank within West Virginia. Typically, students would be working with officials in Charleston; however, that has proven challenging due to COVID-19.

Despite the additional challenge, Kunz said students have been working to get their points across and create awareness through op-eds, as well as social media platforms such as TikTok.

Spreading awareness to legislative topics is not limited to groups like those in this master’s program. Kunz said all are encouraged to have their voices heard by reaching out directly to state delegates and senators, whether it be via phone, email or postcard.  

Along with advocating to stop the passage of campus carry, students distributed information packets and had a laptop open to help students register to vote. 

Johnson said the best way to make someone’s voice heard is to participate in elections. For those who want to voice their opinions regarding specific legislation, she said the best thing to do is reach out directly to state delegates and senators.

“The reason we need people to register to vote and to be informed voters is because we need to make sure we got the right people in power making the right decisions for us all,” Johnson said.

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