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A West Virginia bill allowing concealed guns at colleges is one step away from law

West Virginia's legislature has passed a bill that would allow concealed carry of firearms on public college campuses, including West Virginia University (pictured here).
Ray Thompson
/
AP
West Virginia's legislature has passed a bill that would allow concealed carry of firearms on public college campuses, including West Virginia University (pictured here).

A bill that would allow people to carry concealed weapons at public college campuses in West Virginia passed by a landslide in the state's House of Delegates on Tuesday.

The measure now heads to the desk of Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican. He hasn't made any public indication of whether he will sign it into law.

Current laws in West Virginia prohibit carrying guns on public college and university campuses.

But this bill — which didn't gain enough traction when introduced in 2018 and 2019 — would allow people with concealed-carry permits to have pistols or revolvers on campuses starting in July 2024.

The Campus Self-Defense Act was passed 29-4 in the state's Senate chamber last week and then 84-13 in the state's House on Tuesday.

The bill strictly prohibits open carry of guns on public college campuses and doesn't allow guns in high-capacity areas like stadiums.

How West Virginia's college community has responded

The presidents of West Virginia University and Marshall University penned a joint letter to legislators opposing the bill in late January.

"We believe that our boards of governors are best suited to decide whether guns should be permitted on campus," the letter reads. "We therefore do not support statewide campus carry."

The presidents of West Virginia State University, Concord University and Shepherd University wrote a separate letter saying they strongly support the Second Amendment but "have serious reservations about the significant public safety challenges" that the bill would present.

"Introducing firearms into this already challenging environment could have unintended consequences," the letter says, referencing increased suicide rates and concern that the presence of firearms could stifle the free exchange of ideas.

West Virginia Public Broadcastingreported that at a public hearing last week, 40 people spoke and nearly everyone opposed the bill.

Marshall University professor Chris White said the bill doesn't have enough safety measures in place. Formerly a Marine Corps infantryman, he referenced months of training that military and police officers go through "to earn that Second Amendment right and carry those weapons in public."

"None of those safety controls will be imposed on our students or anybody else who comes on to campus," White said, according to WVPB.

Students also raised concerns about the measure.

"Fighting fire with fire has never had a good outcome, and broadening the chances that these dangerous weapons being brought into these environments — that are supposed to be safe for students and faculty — would just be adding fuel to the fire," West Virginia State University student Olivia Smith testified, according to the university's student newspaper.

Discussion in West Virginia's state legislature

The House's minority leader, Doug Skaff, emphasized that resources should be focused on providing mental health support to university students.

"Just because we have a supermajority here, just because you can pass whatever you want, doesn't mean you should," Skaff said, referencing the Republican-dominated legislature, according to The Associated Press.

However, many Republican lawmakers supported the bill.

"The Second Amendment is my gun permit, and that's all I have to say about that," Del. Larry Kump said, according to the AP.

How legislation in other states compares

Similar legislation already exists in 11 other states: Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

Other states have taken different approaches to the issue.

In Montana, the state legislature passed a similar bill to allow concealed carry on public college campuses. But the Montana Supreme Court reversed the law last June, Montana Public Radio reported.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill known as the "campus carry" law in 2015; it allows licensed individuals to carry concealed firearms but "gives public universities some discretion to regulate campus carry," according to the University of Texas at Austin's website.

For example, the University of Texas at Austin's regulations prohibit guns at athletic events and in businesses where the majority of revenue is from alcohol sales. Guns are allowed in classrooms and common areas of residence halls.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Roshan Fernandez
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