West Virginia’s House Education Committee has advanced legislation that would require colleges to allow individuals to carry concealed guns on campus. This would include the presence of guns at sports events and in school buildings – provided the individuals had carry permits.
The bill, which passed after some debate, is headed to the House Judiciary Committee at a time when emotions are running high on the issue of weapons on school grounds.
Right now, it is not illegal to carry a concealed weapon on a college campus in West Virginia, but it may be against the college's rules.
The West Virginia Gazette Mail, reporting on the issue, noted there were multiple “No” votes recorded on the bill.
West Virginia State University President Anthony Jenkins said all the public Mountain State four-year colleges are opposed to the bill (House Bill 4298). He said many campuses have summer camps with children, and he brought up possibly dangerous situations, like packed rivalry sports games for which people have been "pre-gaming, or fraternity events with excessive drinking, or a student conduct matter where a student is about to face discipline.
The tailgate issue, in particular, was a sore point for Jenkins, who noted colleges should be "grounds where we use our emotional intelligence and our intellectual capacity to agree to disagree, and to interject weapons changes the very foundation of what higher education is supposed to be about. He said colleges shouldn't become the "O.K. Corral.”
"Let me speak for West Virginia State University, because I'm the president, Jenkins said. "I don't want gun-toting students on campus, and I don't want gun-toting faculty and staff and administrators on campus.”
West Virginia University also went on record as being against the measure. According to an article in WV Metro News, Rob Alsop, the school's vice president for strategic initiatives, said in an interview that WVU did not think putting guns on campus would improve the security factor.
“Putting a weapon, or additional weapons on campus, in any of those situations does not make it safer,” Alsop said. “It makes it more likely that someone could get a hold of a gun or do something to escalate a situation.”
However, others said they felt it was a reasonable bill.
Matt Turner, executive vice chancellor of administration for the state agencies overseeing public colleges, wrote in an email that college boards of governors "have the local authority, as property owners, to determine whether they wish to permit deadly weapons, concealed or otherwise, on their campuses.
He referred to part of existing state law that says, generally, that an entity or individual "may prohibit the carrying openly or concealing of any firearm or deadly weapon on property under his or her domain. Turner said that, as far as he knows, all the state's public colleges, two-year and four-year, disallow deadly weapons on campus.
Campuses with stadiums or arenas that hold more than 5,000 people could make special rules where guns are not permitted at the event.
Students at New River Community Technical College 59 News spoke with said they conceal carry themselves and knowing people have the proper permit is important.
"I agree that you need to have a basic class to show that you know how to properly use the weapon, especially with a public area or anything with a school, it's supposed to be safe place. But I don't mean to use the cliche but the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," James Meadows, a student, said.
The bill defines several venues in which a college would still be able to “regulate possession of firearms.” Those are “a stadium or arena with a capacity of more than 5,000 spectators; “a daycare facility” on the college property, and “in the secure area of any building used by a law-enforcement agency” on the college property.
Alsop said WVU only has two venues that are large enough to fit into the former category: Milan Puskar Stadium and the WVU Coliseum. WVSU has one arena that large. Bluefield State President Marsha Krotseng told the House Education Committee Friday that her college has no venues that large, and noted her entire enrollment is less than 5,000. However, he noted, the exceptions in H.B. 4298 fail to cover Monongalia County Ballpark and Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium — home of the Mountaineer baseball and men’s and women’s soccer teams respectively.
Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell, who opposed the bill, raised concerns about tailgating sports fans in parking lots and said he has a son in the eleventh grade.
"I need to know when I send my son [to college] he's going to be safe," Evans said.
The issue of metal detectors and bag searches around sports venues is nothing new; many pro sports organizations have put such restrictions in place over the last few years. However, guns on campus remains a sore point, both politically and emotionally. Many schools have already put in place ‘active shooter on campus’ protocol in the wake of tragedies such as Virginia Tech, and more are likely to do so following the high school shootings in Florida.