Education, West Virginia Legislature, WVU News

Senate Judiciary approves new version of campus carry, to allow concealed carry of handguns on public college and university campuses

MORGANTOWN – Campus carry is once again working its way through the state Legislature.

SB 10 is called the Campus Self Defense Act and sets the parameters for people with concealed handgun permits to carry on public college and university campuses.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved it on Wednesday in a voice vote – not unanimously – and it will head to the full Senate.

Campus Carry caused a statewide stir during the 2019 legislative session. That year’s bill 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.

It nearly died several times in the House but kept springing back to life and narrowly pass. Then it died altogether in Senate Judiciary when two Republicans sided with the Democrats to kill it.

The measure nearly resurfaced again in 2021, with four campus carry bills getting introduced but none seeing a committee.

On Wednesday, with only two of the Senate’s three Democrats on the committee under the new GOP mega-majority, passage was a foregone conclusion.

The bills provisions to allow concealed carry on campuses apply to those ages 18-21 holding provisional licenses and those 21 and up with standard licenses. Obtaining a license requires training in handgun use and safety. It also applies to residents of other states who may legally carry in West Virginia under reciprocity agreements.

Open carry is forbidden in the bill. And while the state as a whole allows constitutional carry – concealed carry without a permit – that is not allowed in this bill.

The bill contains 12 exceptions where institutions may continue to ban concealed carry. Among them: an organized event at a stadium or arena with a capacity of more than 1,000 spectators; at a campus daycare; a K-12 school-sponsored functions occcuring on campus; patient-care areas; and residence halls, except in common areas.

For residence halls, the institution must provide secure storage for weapons, either in in-room safes or a secure storage location, or both.

Rob Alsop, WVU vice president for Strategic Initiatives, answered some questions about the bill. He said WVU would not hire a security person or a wand for every building – they have more than 180.

The bill allows institutions to charge students a “reasonable fee” to provide safes or storage units. Alsop said WVU would levy a fee based on the actual cost of the safes, factored over their lifespans.

Alsop noted that the changes won’t take effect immediately; institutions have 18 months to plan and prepare.

Sen. Mike Stuart, R-Kanawha, said before the vote, “I don’t view this as making anyone less safe,” saying it put parameters around an issue campuses are already dealing with.

Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, offered the only visible no vote. He said, “I just think it’s insane that we’re opening up campuses.” College kids can get into fights and disagreements, he said, and guns could make those worse.

“It’s a huge burden that were putting on the universities,” he said. “I really hope it works out.”

Committee chair Charles Tump, R-Morgan, offered some insights on the bill Hoppy Kercheval’s Talkline on Wednesday.

He said the bill started in his committee this year because that’s where it failed in 2019.

The reason they keep trying, he said, is because West Virginians value the Constitutional right to keep and bear arms. The bill at some level reflects the judgment and view of the residents of what that means, he added, saying the bill attempts to recognize rights in a balanced fashion.

WVU President Gordon Gee and Marshall University President Brad Smith issued a joint letter stating their position on the bill.

They support local control and believe their respective boards are best suited to decide the parameters of campus carry. “Whether it is mental health challenges facing some students, discussion about grades, recruitment of new students and faculty, or the protection of open and honest debate of ideas, we are concerned about inserting firearms into these types of situations.”

They call for the 12 exceptions that were incorporated into the bill, and the delay on it taking effect until July 1, 2024. “While we support local control, we will continue to work with our legislators to create environments that are safe for our campus communities.”

WVU Faculty Senate issued a resolution on Tuesday reflecting the same concerns Gee and Smith outlined in their letter.

They also note, “The possession of firearms on WVU campuses by non-emergency personnel (faculty, staff, students, and visitors) may adversely affect the university including, but not limited to, public health impacts (e.g., accidents, suicides, and/or intent to cause fear or harm), the recruitment and retention of students, faculty, and staff, as well as the cost of compliance.”

They conclude: “The Faculty Senate of West Virginia University requests that the Legislature of West Virginia preserve institutional control of decisions related to carrying concealed firearms on campus.”

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