MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Several members of WVU’s faculty left their jobs for a few hours on Thursday to protest the campus carry bill (HB 2519) working its way through the West Virginia Legislature.The bill would allow people with a concealed carry permit to bring guns on campus, with some exceptions.
Currently, guns may not be carried on campus. The bill is opposed by WVU, Marshall and local law enforcement.
Joshua Lohnes, who teaches a world regions geography class, said when talking to his class of up to 300 students about identity politics or conflicts around the world, their reactions scare him and guns in the classroom will hamper the ability to have free and civil debates.
“So that’s why we’re here giving up on work to show our discontent,” he told the crowd. “Guns are scary; they scare me.”
Lohnes said he wasn’t skipping class to partake in the protest, but he was ignoring important emails about food insecurity and hunger in West Virginia.
“I think that the amount of energy going into this bill, it’s all coming from outside powers,” Lohnes said. “Our delegates are taking time to vote on a bill that will increase the likelihood that our students are in harm’s way. Those employed by this campus are vehemently against this bill.”
Leaving WVU and the state is not out of the question if the bill passes, Lohnes said.
Graduate student Anna Davis-Abel echoed that sentiment and said she was “seriously considering” leaving WVU if the bill passes. Davis-Abel drafted an open letter to WVU administrators and West Virginia’s lawmakers, which she read to the crowd.
“To say that this legislation goes against everything we want in an academic institution is an understatement,” she said.
Davis-Abel said guns in the classroom would “fundamentally change” the way education works. She said campus should be a place for ideas, not guns.
“The mere presence of more guns on our campus makes us statistically more likely to be injured by them or even killed,” Davis-Abel said. “More guns will not make us safer, not from others, not from ourselves.”
Davis-Abel suggested the estimated $10 million to $11.5 million this bill would cost could be better spent paying a year of tuition for 1,300 students or fully funding graduate degrees for 300 students.
Lohnes said the state has other crises which could use that money, such as polluted water, low pay for state employees, food insecurity and the opioid epidemic.
Not everyone gathered in Woodburn Circle was against the bill. A small group advocating for the law’s passage was also there.
“Reason is not going to stop force,” WVU student Joshua Riston said. “Force needs to be stopped with greater force.”
Riston said he doesn’t carry concealed but is working towards being able to do so. He said he would feel safer if the law passes.
The protest was born from a Facebook group started by English professor Rosemary Hathaway, who said she didn’t expect such a large turnout.
During the walkout, Hathaway was handing out contact sheets with the names and contact information of delegates and senators who are in favor of the bill and encouraging people to call and voice their opposition. The flip side of the contact sheet had both an email template and phone script.
“I just think the last place on earth that we need guns is on campus,” Hathaway said.
Story by William Dean