CHARLESTON, W.Va. – An effort to kill the so-called Campus Carry Bill at the end of Monday’s evening House session led to a heated debate on the floor.
HB 2519, the Campus Self Defense Act as it’s officially called, was on first reading, not typically a time for efforts to kill a bill.
However, Delegate Andrew Byrd, D-Kanawha, moved to reject the bill on first reading. He said no one has consulted with college faculty or students around the state. “Those are the people that are going to be affected by this.”
Schools that instituted campus carry in other states have seen their enrollment drop, he said. “This is not going to help West Virginia.”
Opposing the motion, Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, turned angry. “It is inconceivable in this republic we would rob our most precious children of the right to defend themselves. … It’s nothing more than a power grab to take away from the people we are here to defend.”
Some bad blood between Judiciary chair John Shott, R-Mercer, and Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, bubbled up during the debate. McGeehan was removed from Judiciary last week, reportedly at Shott’s urging.
Shott was responding to a statement by Finance chair Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, who said WVU supports the bill.
Shott said WVU didn’t want to agree to the bill but made some concessions and was forced to agree “because they had a gun to their head.” The institutions in his district oppose it, and no one but WVU was ever consulted.
McGeehan then criticized Shott for putting a bill Shott opposed on the committee agenda. “Why not do the manly thing and resign?”
WVU clarified its actual position on the bill in a phone conversation and a follow-up email: “West Virginia University does not support this bill,” it begins.
“We have always maintained that, in matters relating to its 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 as it relates to House Bill 2519.”
It concludes, “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.”
Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer pointed out that Second Amendment rights aren’t absolute. She cited the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a staunch conservative, who said the amendment doesn’t forbid limitations on guns in sensitive areas such as schools.
“We are talking about our children,” she said. In this case, college kids away from home for the first time and not necessarily always entirely stable.
Contradicting Byrd, Delegate Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, said 333 campuses have adopted campus carry and have seen no deaths, assaults or suicides as a result. He additionally read a letter from a young woman raped on campus who chose to get trained and carry a gun to defend herself.
HB 2519 would allow, with specified exceptions, people with concealed carry permits to carry weapons on college campuses.
The bill carves out 12 exceptions, some of them negotiated with WVU. Among them: at events in facilities with a capacity of more than 1,000 people; daycares on campus; areas with adequate security measures in place; sole occupancy offices; areas where mental-health or patient-care counseling is being provided; high-hazardous and animal laboratories; dorms, except in common areas.
Employees required to be in residence halls who have permits may carry if in the hall on business. Institutions will provide one of two forms of safe storage for weapons on campus: a secure location in at least one residence hall or room safes.
The bill specifically cites WVU, saying if it chooses to provide secure locations, they must be in at least two residence halls in Morgantown and one each in Beckley or Keyser.
Byrd’s motion to reject the bill failed 36-61, mostly but not entirely on party lines. It is up for second reading and subject to amendment on Tuesday.
Locally, Democrats Michael Angelucci, Mike Caputo, Fleischauer, Evan Hansen, Linda Longstreth, Rodney Pyles, Danielle Walk and John Williams, along with Republican Terri Sypolt voted to reject it.
Democrat Dave Pethtel and Republicans Buck Jennings and Amy Summers voted to keep it alive.