BY MIKE NOLTING
Colleges and universities in West Virginia are preparing for July 1, 2024, — the go-date for the West Virginia Self-Defense Act, also known as campus carry.
The legislature passed the law in February. It sets the parameters for people with concealed handgun permits to carry on public college and university campuses and includes directives for weapons storage in dorms and other buildings, and exceptions where the schools may still prohibit weapons.
WVU Dean of Students Corey Farris and Vice President for University Engagement Sharon Martin are co-chairs of the Campus Safety Group that is meeting to determine how the law will be implemented. Several sub-groups and one group dedicated to the campus carry are being organized.
Fairmont State University President Michael Davis said the FSU implementation committee is co-chaired by Gina Fantasia, Faculty Senate representative to the Board of Governors; Spencer Flanagan, director of the Falcon Center; and Fairmont State University Police Chief Bill McGann. The committee members come from each college, facilities management and information technology.
“Everybody is in the exploratory stages, still figuring out what campus carry is going to look like, so we need to figure out what those issues are,” Davis said.
According to Davis, some state lawmakers have asked about the estimated costs associated with compliance, and he hopes that will lead to the possibility of a grant or other assistance.
Marshall University Police Chief James Terry said the Action Learning Team is comprised of a cross-section of all campus stakeholders and meets every two weeks on the issue. Terry said because the law is something new, they started by talking to people from campuses that have campus carry in place. The coverage determined the law was a concern on campus and was diminished a short time after becoming law.
“They talked to every school that has campus carry in effect right now, and they identified no issues, and they also said within six months to a year it’s a non-issue,” Terry said. “Now, we’ll see if that’s the case in West Virginia.”
Recognizing there are winners and losers in any political issue, Fairmont State’s Davis said they are carefully talking to campus groups in the early stages of preparation. Davis, who began serving as president in July, said the campus carry issue was the most frequently asked question and believes the institution will be defined based on its campus-wide response.
“So if you want to carry a gun on campus and the state has now said you can, be happy with that,” Davis said. “But you don’t have to rub it in the face of those who might feel more anxious because there are more guns on campus.”
Davis said they’ll follow the letter of the law and communicate that to faculty, staff, students and families. The addition of metal detectors is also a possibility as planning moves forward.
“In our athletic arenas, we’ll most likely have a restriction on that because the state has allowed that,” Davis said. “I think those are the kinds of things where people have to know where there will not be firearms and what to do if they feel unsafe.”
At Marshall, Terry said planning is underway but at this stage it’s unclear how the law could change security on campus or at events, but all preparations will be in place prior to next July.
“We know we will be wanding in certain venues like student conduct hearings and HR hearings, but we’re not to that point yet; that’s just a thought process right now,” Terry said. “And that’s still to be determined.”