Education, West Virginia Legislature

House Judiciary approves campus carry bill, sends it to full House

MORGANTOWN – The campus carry bill is on its way to the House floor and expected to pass there after clearing House Judiciary in a voice vote on Wednesday afternoon.

SB 10, the Campus Self Defense Act, 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.

Committee counsel explained that state code governing a property owner or person in charge of property has the right to restrict open or concealed carry on the property. It is not now illegal to bring a concealed weapon onto a campus but if the gun bearer is asked to leave or give up the gun and refuses, that person can be charged.

Eleven states have campus carry, it was said, while West Virginia is among another 20 that have no law that prevents carrying on a campus. Institutions here put policies for faculty and students.

Chris White, a Marshall University criminal justice professor and Marine veteran, said concealed carry permit training is less vigorous than military or police training and doesn’t equip a person to respond to a stressful situation. Military and police live in a culture of firearm safety. “It’s night and day.”

He said it’s too soon to see evidence of any increase in problems in campus carry states. There has been no increase in violence. He expects the problem to be accidental discharges.

Jim McJunkin, with the West Virginia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics said firearms deaths are the second leading cause of deaths for ages 1-19 in West Virginia, and 60% of those are suicides. Suicide is the leading cause of death among college ages, and the risk increases threefold with access to a gun.

Travis Mollohan, WVU’s director of government relations, said they have contacted other universities since campus carry was first introduced some years ago. “There is no empirical evidence that a campus is safer or more dangerous.” Based on 2019 numbers, they expect preparing the campus for campus carry will cost about $350,000 because they already have a big police force. It won’t be the same for other institutions.

During closing comments before the vote, Delegate Mike Honaker R-Greenbrier, a military and police veteran, said, “Being in a gunfight changes you forever. Taking another person’s life will surely kill a little piece of you.”

He was on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007 for that mass shooting, he said. He knows what it’s like to walk into a hallway and classroom where 31 are lying dead. He went home that night with blood on his shoes. He had to notify some of the parents.

And he knows it’s probable that folks on one side or the other will get the “I told you so trophy.” But, he said, “There’s no way I could forbid another free, law-abiding citizen from carrying a firearm” to be able to defend themselves or others.

Delegate Evan Hansen. D-Monongalia, said all in the room respect the Second Amendment, but it has boundaries, as reflected in the 12 exceptions in the bill. But the bill doesn’t draw the line in the right place. Lack of training and accidents will lead to trouble. “On the balance, I think it’s going to make people less safe rather than more safe.”

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