West Virginia lawmakers are advancing the campus carry bill, despite pleas from college students and educators across the state.
The House Judiciary Committee passed SB 10, the Campus Self-Defense Act, by voice vote Wednesday. It now moves to the House floor for further consideration.
The bill would allow people with concealed carry permits to bring weapons in many areas on public college or university campuses like classrooms, residence halls and dining areas. However, higher education institutions could regulate concealed firearms in some areas, such as stadiums with more than 1,000 spectators and campus mental health facilities.
Just hours before its passage, dozens of concerned students and faculty spoke out against the bill during a public hearing in the House chamber. Many shared concerns over campus safety, mental health and student enrollment.
Andrew O’Neal, a senior at Charleston Catholic High School, said he currently plans to attend West Virginia University in the fall but would consider leaving the state if campus carry is legalized.
“Every day, kids in this country go to school not knowing whether or not they will fall victim to the countless school shootings that we’re seeing ever more prevalent,” O’Neil said in his testimony. “If this bill passes, I might have to rethink attending college in the state.”
In another testimony, Olivia Smith, a student at West Virginia State University, said allowing concealed carry on campus would only worsen existing problems facing students.
“For as long as I can remember of my education, we’ve had drills where we have to barricade doors, hide under desks and flee buildings for safety. It’s always it might not happen but what if?” Smith said.
“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,” she added.
Others referenced the potential impact concealed carry would have on existing mental health crises facing college and university communities statewide.
Dr. James McJunkin, a retired pediatrician and WVU professor, noted how suicide is a leading cause of death in college student, adding that firearms would only exacerbate the issue.
“West Virginia has the sixth highest suicide rate in the country, and we do not need to add to this,” said McJunkin, who represented West Virginia’s chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Later in a committee meeting, McJunkin told lawmakers that firearms are the second leading cause of death for adolescents in West Virginia — a majority of those being suicides.
Research has also shown that suicide accounts for more than half of gun-related deaths in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
WVU Student Government Association members also shared concerns over the bill’s potential impact on campus mental health.
“Choosing to legalize campus carry is irresponsible and puts all students, faculty and staff in harm’s way …,” Olivia Dowler, SGA legislative affairs liaison, said in a testimony. “It is ignorant not to believe the data between firearms and mental health.”
In another testimony, Marshall University professor Chris White, a former U.S. Marine, spoke out against the bill expressing concern over the lack of training individuals would receive to conceal carry on campus.
“There are two institutions in this country that require you to earn your Second Amendment rights; they are the military and law enforcement. Anybody wonder why? Because they know these weapons were created specifically for those purposes,” White said. “Every single moment in which a weapon is in the hands of a soldier or a police officer is controlled. None of those safety controls will be imposed on our students or anybody else who comes onto campus.”
Educators from Fairmont State University also spoke out against the bill, noting similar concerns over campus safety.
Only two people spoke in favor of the bill during Wednesday’s hearing, including representatives from the National Rifle Association and West Virginia Citizens Defense League.
“Our loved ones deserve the right to defend themselves from a deadly attack in a gun-free zone without having to make the choice of employment, education or their life,” Art Thomm, NRA state director for Legislative Affairs, said.
Under the current state law, if an unauthorized person brings a firearm onto campus property, WVU is permitted to ask them to leave. The person could be charged with a misdemeanor if they refuse.
If passed, West Virginia would join 11 other states — Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin — in allowing concealed firearms on public college or university campuses to some degree.
The bill would require full passage in the House and the Governor’s signature to become law.