West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed the campus carry bill Wednesday, despite direct opposition from hundreds of students, parents and educators across the state.
“My feelings are really as simple as they could possibly be,” Justice said before signing the bill. “West Virginia has been an unbelievable supporter of the Second Amendment for a long, long time. We’ve been a national leader. We absolutely need to put our stake in sight. That’s all there is to it.”
The new law will allow people with concealed carry permits to bring firearms in most areas of public college and university campuses. Higher learning institutions will be able to regulate those weapons in some locations, like stadiums with more than 1,000 spectators and campus mental health facilities.
The measure will go into effect on July 1, 2024, giving colleges more than two years to make desired changes to campus safety.
Justice said the law won’t completely solve the issue of gun violence on campus but argued it would give students a greater chance of defending themselves in those situations.
“When that situation happens, if we have gun completely free areas — to where absolutely without any question there’s no way we can defend ourselves — then it seems like those are the targets,” he said.
Representatives from the National Rifle Association and the Citizens Defense League where among those who showed up to support the bill Wednesday.
“This is a big day not only for West Virginians but for law-abiding gun owners across the country who may choose West Virginia for employment or higher education,” NRA State Director of Legislative Affairs Art Thomm said. “Threats to personal safety don’t disappear once you step on campus. Criminals do not abide by gun-free zones, and gun-free zones make law-abiding citizens sitting ducks.”
Last week, more than 600 faculty, students and staff from colleges and universities statewide sent a letter to Justice urging him to veto the bill.
The letter cited concerns over the bill’s potential impact on firearm suicides, noting that those numbers have steadily increased in West Virginia in recent years.
“Gun violence — especially among young people — is a serious public health and safety issue in our state,” faculty, students and staff wrote in the letter. “SB 10 is likely to lead to an increase in suicide and suicide attempts, already at crisis levels among WV college students.”
At West Virginia University, reports of suicide attempts and threats last school year increased past pre-pandemic levels. Firearms are also the second leading cause of death for adolescents in West Virginia — a majority of those being suicides.
On Wednesday, Justice argued that people could still bring firearms onto campus regardless of the bill.
“I mean for crying out loud you know the doors are wide open,” he said. “This is just saying that law-abiding people have a right to be able to carry if they choose to do so. And we just hope and pray that there’s never a problem.”