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Emotional public hearing leading up to House committee’s discussion on campus carry bill

Story by David Beard, The Dominion Post 

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House Judiciary Committee’s Wednesday morning public hearing on the campus carry bill drew 40 people; 38 opposed it.

Most of the opponents to SB 10 were university students, faculty and administrators.

But Mary Ellen O’Farrell, speaking on her own behalf, summed up the thoughts of the opponents: “When I first heard of this bill, I thought, ‘Surely this is a joke. What are people thinking? How will this enhance the education of our children?’”

There were common themes among the opponents. Robert Avsek, with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, stated one of them: guns on campus raise the risk of homicide, suicide and shootings on campus. This will make West Virginia institutions less attractive to potential students.

Robin Godfrey, a lawyer and gun owner, raised another. Legislators have introduced repeated bills over the years to allow concealed carry in the Capitol, but none have passed. “If guns make colleges safer, why aren’t they allowed in here?”

He also said that passing this bill will only exacerbate West Virginia’s image as a backwater state, raising red flags for companies scouting new homes.

Opponents raised issues of young students balancing booze-filled parties, emotional struggles and adapting to new environments. Adding guns makes the mix more volatile.

E.T. Bowen, a Marshall University student, said, “We are already terrified on campus as is. This bill is like throwing kerosene at a wildfire.”

Bella Mitchell, a WVU senior, said the bill will foster an environment of mistrust, uncertainty and anxiety. “Asking students to give up their feelings of safety for someone’s potential heroism is unfair.”

As the bill has progressed through the Legislature, several university presidents have said it’s estimated the statewide cost to colleges and universities could be $11.6 million for the first year of implementation.

Marshall freshman Emma Crouch picked up on that point. “Millions of dollars will be going to allowing thousands of student to feel less safe on campuses.”

Opponents noted that WVU and Marshall leaders prefer to leave these kinds of decisions to institutional control. And Alicia Kalka, assistant vice president for enrollment and student life at Fairmont State, said FSU has mechanisms in place to keep students safe. The bill will add new challenges. They’ll have to develop new mechanisms and student codes of conduct will have to be redone.

Zach Campbell, with the West Virginia Citizens Defense League, was one of the two proponents. He said it’s already legal to carry a firearm on a college campus; the bill just removes the administrative penalties.

Campbell said the bill allows only deals with those with concealed carry permits to carry concealed on campus; and permits require background checks and training. “I ask you to look beyond the rhetoric of this issue, look at the bill.”

And Art Thomm, with the National Rifle Association, talked about Monday’s Michigan State University shooting that left three dead – an incident also mentioned by several opponents..

Thomm said the Michigan State shooter was a felon in illegal possession of a weapon, trespassing on a gun-free zone – owing to a failure of prosecutors who handled his most recent offense. “Our loved ones deserve the right to defend themselves from a deadly attack in a gun-free zone without having to make the choice of employment, education or their life.”

After the hearing, some House Democrats held a press conference where some of the same people spoke. A couple Monongalia Count Democrats also added their voices.

Delegate John Williams called on the majority party to listen to those who represent areas with higher education institutions. “Our people don’t want this. Think about the young people behind me who are terrified of this happening. Let’s give the people what they want by not passing this bill.”

And Delegate Danielle Walker said, “I’m just going to say morning, because there is nothing good about Senate Bill 10.” She said she was a rape victim when she was a college student in Louisiana, and if she’d had a gun at the time, she may have taken her own life. “Senate Bill 10 will not save you, will not protect you.”

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