Campus carry clears major hurdle in West Virginia legislature

Campus carry clears major hurdle in West Virginia legislature
(AP Photo/Al Behrman, File)

The last time the issue of campus carry came up in the West Virginia legislature, the state House approved the bill by wide margins only to see the measure wither away in the Senate.

This time around its the state Senate that’s going first, and on Tuesday afternoon senators gave their emphatic approval with a 29-4 vote in favor of the bill; a show of support that came despite objections from the state’s higher-ed lobby.

“Thank God for West Virginia and freedom,” the bill’s lead sponsor Republican Sen. Rupie Phillips said, shortly before the Senate passed the bill 29-4. At least half of the West Virginia Senate — all Republicans — were listed as sponsors.

The “ Campus Self-Defense Act, ” which now heads to the Republican supermajority in the House of Delegates, would only apply to people holding a license to carry a concealed pistol or revolver.

It strictly prohibits the open carry of a firearm on a college or university campus, and allows institutions of higher learning to implement exceptions. People could be prohibited from bringing guns into areas with a capacity of more than 1,000 spectators — stadiums for football games, for example — or to on-campus daycare centers.

Republican Sen. Charles Trump said similar legislation has already passed in 11 other states: Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

West Virginia law currently allows colleges and universities to prohibit guns on their campuses. Supporters of the proposed legislation say citizens have a constitutional right to carry weapons for self-defense. Similar bills have been introduced during past legislative sessions but failed to gain enough traction to advance.

Phillips, who has sponsored similar bills in the past, noted the rate of women who face sexual assault on college campuses — and said allowing for concealed carry on campus would help address that issue.

“I don’t want my daughter to have to face this — I don’t want your daughter, your granddaughters to ever have to face that,” Phillips said to fellow lawmakers. “That’s another reason that we need to get this through.”

My introduction to the campus carry issue was meeting Amanda Collins back in 2011. While a student at the University of Nevada-Reno, Collins was brutally sexually assaulted in an on-campus parking garage by a violent attacker who later murdered a fellow student before he was captured. Collins possessed a valid concealed carry license, but the university required students to obtain permission before they could carry on campus; permission that was virtually impossible to get, at least until after Collins was raped. Then the university quietly reached out to let her know that yes, she could carry now, but not to tell other students because they too might want to be able to protect themselves against the predator who was out there stalking coeds.

This is what campus carry is about. And while I think the West Virginia bill isn’t perfect (I have some issues with giving universities the option of requiring guns to be stored in a central locked location or inside an in-dorm room gun safe instead of giving the gun owner the choice between the two options) it’s a dramatic improvement over the status quo.

There are now eleven states that have adopted campus carry, and in none of them have any of the outlandish predictions of the anti-gun crowd come to pass. Not only have there been no shootouts over heated classroom discussions or campus parking spaces, but we also haven’t seen a massive exodus of students to states without campus carry. As I noted just a couple of days ago, UT-Austin, which was home to the largest anti-campus carry protests when the state legislature enacted the measure in 2015, just celebrated it’s largest student body in history. As it turns out, once it’s in place concealed carry on campus is just as much of a non-issue as it is off campus… just like Second Amendment advocates have been saying all along.

The West Virginia bill now heads to the state House, where it should have no trouble passing barring any behind-the-scenes shenanigans. Gun owners and Second Amendment supporters shouldn’t take anything for granted, however, and if you live in West Virginia now’s a good time to let your state rep know you’re backing the campus carry bill as well as letting your senator know you appreciate their vote in favor. Hopefully we can get the bill to Gov. Jim Justice’s desk in short order, even if the law might not take effect until students return to campus in the fall.