West Virginia already has some of the best gun laws east of the Mississippi, with Constitutional Carry on the books since 2016 and a legislature that laughs at the idea of banning guns in the name of public safety. In fact, lawmakers in the state are pushing several bills this session that would allow for legal gun owners to carry on college campuses, which is currently forbidden.
This week West Virginia University president Gordon Gee penned a letter to the “campus community” warning of the supposed dangers of campus carry and sharing what he wrote to the state Senate in opposition to the legislation.
We believe that deadly weapons have no place on our campuses, except in the hands of law enforcement personnel or others authorized by the University. And we have always believed that local control by our Board of Governors is the best basis for decisions about security on our campuses around the state.
Under the current system that bans weapons, our well-trained law enforcement staff does an excellent job keeping campuses safe for students, faculty, staff, campus visitors and all those who attend athletic events. Many law enforcement officers believe “campus carry” policies endanger their own lives and make it much more difficult for police to protect the safety of all.
Young adults, who comprise most of our 30,000 students, are still developing emotionally and often engage in conduct that would be made significantly more dangerous by concealed weapons. In this environment, the right to carry concealed guns can increase chances of homicide and suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college age young adults.
At a time when we are seeing more students facing mental health challenges and needing additional mental healthcare, now is not the time to insert firearms into what are already trying situations on campus.
There’s more to Gee’s letter, but let’s stop there for a moment. First, its important to note that West Virginia would be the 12th state in the nation to allow for campus carry if any of the proposals were to become law. They’re not inventing the wheel here. Gee can look at the experiences of nearly a dozen other states, and if he does, he’ll see that campus carry hasn’t posed any significant issues whatsoever.
Gee speaks of the emotional immaturity of the students on the WVU campus, but he apparently forgets that the bills wouldn’t expand who can carry a firearm, only where those who possess a concealed handgun license can carry. These same students (and staff) are already lawfully carrying off-campus without incident, so why does Gee think that they’d become irresponsible and irrational once they set foot on WVU property?
A passionate interplay of ideas enlivens higher education institutions. The presence of guns would have a chilling effect in many situations, from contentious classroom discussions to meetings with faculty members about grades. According to research published in the American Journal of Public Health, “right to carry” laws have been associated with higher rates of firearm workplace homicides.
That “research” that Gee cites comes straight from the Bloomberg-funded School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins, which isn’t exactly neutral on the issue. As for the assertion that right-to-carry has led to higher rates of firearm workplace homicides, the study actually notes that the numbers of those types of crimes have been declining since the early 1990s, even as many more states have adopted shall-issue or Constitutional Carry laws.
There’s also no evidence whatsoever that campus carry laws have chilled classroom debate. I’d say the rise of cancel culture has done far more to silence unpopular opinions in the classroom than anything else, and Gee has first-hand experience about speech being chilled on campuses where guns aren’t allowed, since he retired as president of the Ohio State University after making controversial comments about Notre Dame and was accused of “bigotry and ignorance” after comparing running OSU to being in charge of “the Polish Army.”
Gee’s letter to the state Senate continues:
West Virginia University does currently permit guns on campus in some situations, always with awareness and oversight by the University Police Department. For example, guns are essential to certain academic programs, such as Forensic and Investigative Science, and in athletic competition by our Rifle Team. In unique circumstances, such as a specific and immediate death threat against an individual, the president and the University Police Department can grant a waiver allowing someone to carry a weapon.
Another authorized gun on campus is the traditional musket that our Mountaineer mascot carries at University events. The Mountaineer represents West Virginia’s heritage, and our University takes pride in honoring that heritage and the rights of everyone on campus. Above all, as our state’s land-grant university, we advance the right of all Mountaineers to learn, teach, work and speak without fear in a safe, secure environment.
Oh, so now we learn that under special circumstances students and staff can carry a firearm on campus, but only if Gee and the campus police give the okay. That’s similar to the regulations that were in place at the University of Nevada-Reno when a man attacked and raped a student in the parking garage several years ago. That student, Amanda Collins, possessed a concealed carry license but like most students wasn’t allowed to carry, at least not until she was sexually assaulted. After the crime took place the university told Collins that she could carry a gun, but only if she didn’t tell anyone because they might want to do the same thing.
It’s despicable that Gee would suggest that the current policy serves as any real benefit to the public safety of students and staff, given Collins’ experience with the similar policy at UNR. His objections boil down to “I don’t like guns, I don’t think people should carry them, and I want to be the one to decide if they can.”
That’s not how rights work, and the state legislature should reject Gee’s arguments in favor of ensuring that law-abiding students and staff have the same ability to protect themselves on campus as they do throughout the rest of the state of West Virginia.