West Virginia Governor Signs Concealed Campus Carry Bill

Five presidents of West Virginia public colleges and many students and faculty spoke against the Campus Self-Defense Act, which allows firearms in most campus settings.
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  • The law allows college students, staff, and visitors with valid concealed carry permits to have a pistol or revolver on the state's public college and university campuses.
  • West Virginia law previously allowed the state's public colleges and universities to prohibit guns on their respective campuses.
  • The presidents of West Virginia University, West Virginia State University, Marshall University, Concord University, and Shepherd University opposed the bill.

A bill that allows college students, staff, and visitors to carry concealed guns on West Virginia college campuses was signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice.

On Mar. 1, Justice signed the Campus Self-Defense Act, which allows those with valid concealed carry permits to have a pistol or revolver on the state's public colleges and universities.

"I'm proud to sign the Campus Self-Defense Act which will strengthen 2nd Amendment protections in West Virginia," Justice said. "I've always said I will do everything I can to protect West Virginia's 2nd Amendment rights, and with this law, West Virginia will continue to be a national leader. I sincerely thank the Legislature for passing this bill overwhelmingly and the National Rifle Association for their support."

The bill passed the state House on Feb. 21 by an 84-13 vote, according to West Virginia Public Broadcasting (WVPB). It had previously cleared the state Senate on Jan. 24 in a 29-4 vote.

The bill permits concealed pistols or revolvers on campus and in all campus buildings, with exceptions:

  • In areas that include rented, leased, or places a private entity uses.
  • At an event at a stadium or arena that has a capacity of more than 1,000 spectators.
  • At an on-campus daycare.
  • On a secure law-enforcement property.
  • In an area already designated for no pistols or revolvers — for example, places where metal detectors are used to enter.
  • In a room where a student or employee discipline hearing is happening.
  • At a primary or secondary school-sponsored event on college property rented or used by the West Virginia Department of Education or primary or secondary school organizations.
  • In areas where patient care or mental health counseling is happening.
  • In hazardous and animal laboratories
  • In residence halls, including rooms, except in common areas like lounges and dining and study areas

Concealed-carry permitted students could either store their weapons in a secure area in their dorm or in a dorm safe for a small fee.

The act will go into effect on July 1, 2024. West Virginia will become one of the few states to remove decision-making from institutions to regulate the presence of concealed firearms on campuses.

College Leaders, Students Opposed Campus Concealed Carry Bill

The presidents of West Virginia University (WVU), West Virginia State University, Marshall University, Concord University, and Shepherd University opposed the bill.

In a letter, the West Virginia State, Concord, and Shepherd presidents said the Campus Self-Defense Act could cost the state's colleges and universities up to $11.6 million to implement the required safeguards.

They said that while they strongly support the Second Amendment, they have "serious reservations" about the significant public safety challenges, student mental health challenges, and financial burden of the Campus Self-Defense Act.

"As a result of the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, all institutions of higher education are seeing more and more students grappling with mental health challenges and in need of additional support services," the presidents wrote. "Introducing firearms into this already challenging environment could have unintended consequences."

The presidents of WVU and Marshall University also sent a letter to the Legislature asserting that the boards of governors of their respective institutions are best suited to make campus carry decisions.

"We therefore do not support statewide campus carry," they wrote. "Whether it is mental health challenges facing some students, discussions about grades, recruitment of new students and faculty, or the protection of open and honest debate of ideas, we are concerned about inserting firearms into these types of situations."

Some 40 West Virginians, mostly college students or professors, testified at a Feb. 15 public hearing for the Campus Self-Defense Act, according to WVPB. Almost all of them opposed the bill.

The Daily Athenaeum, WVU's independent student newspaper, reported the only two supporters of the bill to testify at the hearing were representatives from the National Rifle Association and the West Virginia Citizens Defense League.

Olivia Smith, a student at West Virginia State University, testified that allowing concealed carry on campus would only worsen existing problems facing students, The Daily Athenaeum reported.

"Fighting fire with fire has never had a good outcome, and broadening the chances that these dangerous weapons being brought into these environments — that are supposed to be safe for students and faculty — would just be adding fuel to the fire," Smith said.

Marshall University professor Chris White, a former U.S. Marine, said he was concerned over the lack of training individuals would receive to conceal carry on campus, The Daily Athenaeum reported.

"Every single moment in which a weapon is in the hands of a soldier or a police officer is controlled," he said. "None of those safety controls will be imposed on our students or anybody else who comes onto campus."

Republican Supporters Cited Second Amendment, Virginia Tech Shooting

West Virginia law previously allowed the state's public colleges and universities to prohibit guns on their respective campuses.

Republicans generally in favor of local control argued the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, should take primacy.

According to WVPB, before voting for the Campus Self-Defense Act, Republican Del. Chris Pritt said, "Individual rights are not circumstantial."

"There's a lot of talk about whether something may or may not happen, but there hasn't been any talk up to this point on what it means to have an actual constitutional right," Pritt said.

Republican Del. Mike Honaker also cited the Second Amendment when he spoke about his experience responding to the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech as a former Virginia State Police officer, The Associated Press reported.

"I know we have to be careful about this issue," Honaker said. "But there's no way that I, as someone who has lived through this and seen it with my own eyes, could forbid another free law-abiding American citizen from carrying a firearm and retaining the ability and the capacity to defend yourself or others, God forbid they ever be put in a position to do it."