When it comes to legislative action at the State Capitol, you just never know, and I should know by now that there is no such thing as a slam dunk. By the same token, the term “dead” in reference to a bill is relative.
The latest example of how the unexpected is the norm is HB 2519, the Campus Self Defense Act, or the “campus carry bill” as it was commonly called. The bill allowed individuals with concealed carry permits to carry a gun on state college campuses.
It was THE gun bill this session, pushed hard by the National Rifle Association and the Citizens Defense League. West Virginia, as a 2nd Amendment state, has plenty of gun rights legislators.
Could there be a bill with more greased skids this session?
West Virginia University Vice President Rob Alsop, a veteran of legislative sessions during his time as Governor Tomblin’s chief of staff, also saw an inevitable outcome and figured the best strategy would be to negotiate the best possible deal—one that included myriad exemptions to where individuals could carry a gun on campus.
It was a rational strategy at the time given the legislative landscape, and also because no negotiation could have meant no exemptions. However, as noted earlier, things change under the Capitol Dome, and often in ways that are difficult to foresee.
That’s exactly what happened. The bill was “dead” in the House after a slick procedural maneuver by bill opponent House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott. However, as also previously noted, there is almost always a path to resurrection. Proponents used their own parliamentary move to bring the bill back and it passed the full House 59-41.
However, public opposition to the bill was growing. Marshall President Jerome Gilbert came out strongly against the bill. WVU students and professors protested against the bill on campus. Concord University students organized a demonstration at the State Capitol. You started hearing more people ask the question, “Who wants this bill?”
Senate support weakened. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charlie Trump, a bill supporter, delayed consideration of the bill one day, presumably because the votes were not there. That became evident during the committee meeting Tuesday night.
With the room filled mostly with college officials and campus security officers opposed to the bill, it failed to advance on a 7-9 vote. Two Republicans—Ryan Weld of Brooke County and Charlie Clements of Wetzel County—joining the Democrats in rejecting the bill.
As the Dominion Post’s David Beard reports, “Senators still could move to have the vote reconsidered or have it discharged from committee, but Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said he doesn’t expect that to happen.”
WVU President E. Gordon Gee said on Talkline Wednesday that he is relieved the bill failed—the University has consistently lobbied for local control on the issue—however he still believes negotiating was the best tactic.
“We knew entering into this legislative session that there was substantial support for the bill in both the House and in the Senate,” Gee said. “We didn’t want to be left with a raw bill (one that had no exemptions).”
However, Gee expects to take a different approach if and when campus carry comes up again in the future. “I think that we’ll probably go head-to-head (with the NRA) on this issue,” he said.
So we’ll see what happens if the NRA brings campus carry back next year and, as we now know, it’s impossible to predict what will happen.