Education, Latest News, West Virginia Legislature

Three university presidents join to oppose campus carry legislation

MORGANTOWN — Three university presidents have joined to oppose the campus carry legislation working its way through the state Senate.

Ericke Cage of West Virginia State University, Kendra Boggess of Concord University and Mary Hendrix of Shepherd University sent a joint letter to the Legislature on Friday.

They said, “We strongly support the second amendment and the right for law-abiding citizens to own firearms, but have serious reservations about the significant public safety challenges and financial burdens that Senate Bill 10 would impose on West Virginia’s regional colleges and universities.”

SB 10, the Campus Self Defense Act, will be on second reading, the amendment stage, on Monday on the Senate floor. It sets the parameters for people with concealed handgun permits to carry on public college and university campuses and includes exceptions where the schools may still prohibit weapons.

The three presidents wrote that one impact of the COVID pandemic is more students grappling with mental health challenges and in need of additional support services.

“Introducing firearms into this already-challenging environment could have unintended consequences,” they said. That includes increased suicide risks.

On the financial side, they said the bill will require the addition of new law enforcement personnel, equipment and infrastructure. It’s estimated the statewide cost to colleges and universities could be $11.6 million for the first year of implementation.

“As under-resourced institutions that continue to adapt to the economic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, we simply do not have the financial resources to implement and administer the requirements of Senate Bill 10,” they wrote. “As leaders of the state’s regional colleges and universities, we urge you to fully consider the direct and indirect financial burdens and public safety impacts inherent to Senate Bill 10.”

When the Senate Judiciary Committee considered and approved the bill on Wednesday, Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, expressed concern that the smaller colleges might find it more financially burdensome than WVU and Marshall.

Rob Alsop, WVU vice president for Strategic Initiatives, told the committee that day that WVU already has security measures in place at its arenas, and a campus police force. While it could not afford to hire a security person or a wand for all of its 180 buildings, it would see some costs for some additional wands and equipment and a couple additional people.

He said an estimate provided a couple years ago put WVU’s cost at $350,000. That hasn’t been updated but remains ballpark. “We might see some additional cost,” but he didn’t raise that as an objection to the bill.

As reported Wednesday, WVU President Gordon Gee and Marshall University President Brad Smith did not outright object to the bill in their joint letter but raised concerns — some matching the concerns of the three presidents in Friday’s letter.

Gee and Smith said 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 expressed thanks 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.”

TWEET David Beard @dbeardtdp