CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Close to 60 students from Concord, Fairmont State and Marshall Universities rallied in front of the Senate chamber Monday morning to protest the Campus Carry Bill.
They represented OneCampusWV, which reports is has more than 920 members from college campuses across the state.
For about two hours, they chanted and waved signs, then capped their rally with a press conference, just a few hours before Senate Judiciary was slated to take up the bill – HB 2519, the Campus Self Defense Act – during its afternoon meeting.
Matthew Thomas, of Concord, said, “This bill is dangerous plain and simple. … If your kid hits another kid with a stick, you don’t give everyone a stick, You take that stick away.”
He recognizes, he said there are security problems on campuses. “But we cannot expect our students to take care of that themselves. It’s not the student’s job to take care of campus crime. We are there to get an education, not dole out vigilante justice.”
He also cited a common complaint that’s arisen during consideration of the bill: The gun lobby was heard, but no one else. “When were they planning to come to us to ask how we feel about campus carry? Why did we have to come to them to make our voices heard?”
Zac Fancher, a Fairmont State sophomore, echoed that. “I am for the Second Amendment. I am against guns on our college campuses. … Our elected officials in this building are not listening to those who this bill directly affects.”
Haley Fields is president of the Concord Student Government Association. The gun lobby and legislators who support the bill, she said, assert that we need to arm students to make them safer.
In contrast, she cited various statistics and reports. For instance, of 73,938 offenses reported by West Virginia State Police in 2014, only 0.32 percent happened on a campus.
“Why are trying to fix a nonexistent problem with a non-functional solution?” She said suicide attempts are far more common than rampage shootings.
A Higher Education Policy Commission fiscal note puts the statewide cost of the bill at S11.6 million, for “for additional police officers, security guards and other staff, protective gear, weapons, metal detectors, vehicles, body cams, lockers, security cameras, door locks, emergency dispatch equipment, and training,” as the note says.
Fields called that an unfunded mandate that could lead to tuition hikes at campuses that lack the resources, she said, Concord estimates its costs at $700,000.
A couple delegates also appeared to cheer on the students.
Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said, “I’ve not heard from any college students that want this bill.”
He has heard from students, parents and administrators who oppose it, and from people outside the state who won’t send their kids here if it becomes law.
Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, said she’s a gun owner who voted against the bill. “Mountaineers are free, but you should be free to walk the campus and not be in fear of not knowing what the person walking on the side of you is holding. That is not fair.”
Email David Beard at firstname.lastname@example.org