CHARLESTON — On Tuesday, New River Community and Technical College joined a number of higher education institutions publicly opposing the “campus carry” bill under consideration by the West Virginia Legislature.
House Bill 2519, the “Campus Self Defense Act,” would prohibit colleges from blocking people, including students, who have a permit to conceal carry a gun on campus. A few exceptions have been written into the bill, which would prevent concealed firearms from being carried in campus daycares, disciplinary hearings, dorm rooms and organized events with the capacity for more than 1,000 attendees.
The bill advanced Tuesday with amendments pending. The amendment and passage debate will be held Wednesday in the state House of Delegates.
“Campus safety is of utmost importance to New River Community and Technical College,” the official statement read. “We respect the rights of gun owners and understand the training needed for one to obtain a concealed carry permit, but maintaining campus safety extends beyond HB-2519, the Campus Self Defense Act.”
A 28-year-old New River student shared the same sentiment.
“I don’t disagree with guns in general,” said Kimberly Farmer, a medical laboratory technology student. “I just don’t agree with carrying them on campus.”
She and several classmates, most of whom are nontraditional students, said they’re uncomfortable with the idea of students being allowed to conceal carry guns.
“An immature person with a gun becomes a dangerous person with a gun,” said 35-year-old Kayla Blankenship of Fayette County.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, all 50 states allow citizens to carry concealed weapons if they meet certain state requirements. However, there are 16 states that ban carrying a concealed weapon on a college campus. In 23 states, currently including West Virginia, the decision to ban or allow concealed carry weapons on campuses is made by each college or university individually.
As of August 2018, there are 11 states with provisions allowing the carrying of concealed weapons on public postsecondary campuses. One of those states, Tennessee, allows faculty members with licenses to carry weapons on campus, but the law does not extend to students or the general public.
Several students in the medical laboratory technology class Tuesday at New River said they wouldn’t oppose a provision for faculty members to conceal carry.
Adam Hernandez, 37, of Mt. Hope, said faculty members would have a level of maturity that many students don’t. He also noted faculty would have been screened during the hiring process, and would likely have to attend additional training or receive certifications.
But Dr. Steve Leftwich, a civil engineering professor at West Virginia University-Institute of Technology, said he opposes firearms for anyone except officers.
“What’s going to happen when a shooter comes into the school and you have students with guns? When the SWAT team comes in — how are they going to know who’s the shooter and who’s not?”
Leftwich said the safety of students is the utmost concern at WVU Tech, but he believes allowing conceal carry on campus is not the answer.
“I think only campus officers should carry guns,” he said. “I’m a gun owner, but I don’t want to carry a gun in the classroom. That could be intimidating to students.”
Farmer said as a student, if the bill were to become law, she would be nervous on campus. But 29-year-old Amber Flowers, a fellow classmate at New River, said it wouldn’t bother her.
“I’ve grown up around guns,” Flowers said. “My mom conceal carries. She carries everywhere she goes.”
In its official statement, New River Community and Technical College pointed to a 2016 study from Johns Hopkins University, “Firearms on College Campuses: Research Evidence and Policy Implications”, which found that policies allowing individuals to bring firearms onto college campuses do not lead to fewer mass shootings or casualties. Instead of making campus environments safer, researchers found that increased availability to guns could contribute to increased acts of aggression and suicide.
The statement from New River said the college holds regular trainings for students, faculty and staff about emergency situations, and the college maintains relationships with local law enforcement who would respond during emergencies.
“We want our students, faculty and staff to feel safe on our campuses so that we can focus on education and not be distracted by a potential threat,” New River said.
The administration at Concord University, too, has shared its opposition to the bill.
“This is by no means an argument against the constitutional right to bear arms,” the Concord statement read. “Instead, it is about protecting our students and our dedicated faculty and staff who provide educational and life-changing opportunities to the students of West Virginia. The safety of Concord students and employees is the University’s number one priority.”
Concord also mentioned a number of factors related to student wellness, including an “increased likelihood of suicide, the delicate mental health of some young adults, the escalation of violent conflict, accidental discharge, and confusion in tactical situations.”
The university also noted the expense of the pending legislation. If passed, the administration said security upgrades would be necessary, as well as the hiring of additional law enforcement personnel and equipment.
Jen Wood Cunningham, director of university relations at WVU Tech, shared the official statement from West Virginia University:
“We have always maintained that, in matters relating to our campuses across the system, the Board of Governors is in the best position to make decisions. The University has consistently indicated that it prefers current law and local control and does not support efforts, such as House Bill 2519, that seek to limit the discretion of our Board.
“Given the likelihood this legislation will move forward with the contemplated exemptions, West Virginia University is focused on preserving the exemptions that are in the Committee Substitute for House Bill 2519, as it is considered by the Legislature.”
Hundreds of faculty and students at the Morgantown campus have expressed opposition to the bill.