West Virginia will likely become the 12th state to allow individuals to carry guns on college campuses. It’s important to note that HB 2519—the “Campus Carry” bill—includes a number of restrictions and I’ll get to those in a moment.
Currently, West Virginia public college and university campuses have broad authority to limit guns on campus. For example, at West Virginia University an unauthorized individual who brings a gun on campus and refuses to leave could be charged with trespassing.
Under the bill, which is moving through the House of Delegates, individuals, including students, who have a concealed carry permit would be allowed to carry a concealed weapon on certain areas of campus. They could not carry a weapon in the open.
WVU officials have been able to work into the bill a number of exceptions. They include venues or arenas with a capacity of more than 1,000 spectators (like a football game or concert), daycare facilities, secure areas used by law enforcement, disciplinary hearings, an individual’s office and the rooms of residence halls (though they would be allowed in common areas).
Additionally, college officials would have the power to designate particular events as off limits for concealed carry. For example, if a controversial speaker were making a presentation, officials could decide to exempt campus carry and use metal detection equipment to ensure compliance.
Professors would NOT be able to prohibit students with concealed carry permits from bringing a gun to class. That won’t sit well with left leaning instructors, but they have to understand the political reality of the state.
West Virginia is a strong gun rights state with many pro-gun members in the legislature. Additionally, the National Rifle Association is a powerful lobby and that combination means the bill has momentum.
Rob Alsop, WVU vice president for Strategic Initiatives, told me on Talkline Wednesday that the University’s first choice would be for local control on issues of campus security. However Alsop, who previously served as chief of staff for Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, knows what battles he can win and which ones call for a compromise.
The reality is this bill is going to pass, and the best approach for colleges and universities is to make it more palatable, while also respecting the rights of gun owners who have gone through the training necessary to obtain a concealed carry permit.
As WVU notes in a fact sheet about “Campus Carry,” “The exemptions now being contemplated will provide vital protections needed to maintain a safe and welcoming institution to our faculty, staff, students, parents and friends of the University.”