The West Virginia State Senate has already signed off on a bill allowing those with concealed carry licenses to bear arms on the campuses of public colleges and universities in the state, and the legislation’s next stop is the floor of the state House after a key committee gave its approval on Wednesday afternoon.
The House Judiciary Committee sent the measure on to the House floor after hearing from about 40 witnesses, most of them in opposition to the proposal.
Marshall University student E.T. Bowen said students are already “terrified on campus as it is.”
“We don’t need more guns to exacerbate that. This bill is like throwing kerosene on the wildfire, and it is appalling that we even need to say that while there’s still blood on the ground at Michigan State,” Bowen said.
Bowen told lawmakers, students will not forget “how casually you all have disregarded our safety and well-being in favor of profit and political gain.”
The individual responsible for the murders at Michigan State wasn’t licensed to carry a firearm, and the fact that the campus in East Lansing is a “gun-free zone” didn’t dissuade him in the slightest from bringing a gun onto campus and using it to shoot eight strangers in cold blood. Michigan State’s policies are almost identical to the current law in West Virginia when it comes to campus carry, so why would Bowen believe that those policies are keeping him or any other student safe?
Some of the most powerful testimony on the legislation didn’t come from one of the witnesses who signed up to testify, but from one of the lawmakers who’s signed on as a co-sponsor.
Before voting to advance the bill, supporter Republican Del. Mike Honaker spoke about his experience responding to the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech as a former Virginia State Police officer. With two other officers, the Marine Corps veteran was responsible for making half of the death notifications to the 32 families who lost loved ones.
“I know we have to be careful about this issue,” he 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.”
That gets to the heart of the campus carry debate. On one side are those who believe that allowing legal gun owners access to their right to keep and bear arms on a campus setting creates a treacherous habitat for those who live and work there. The other side believes that the designation as a “gun-free zone” makes campuses more dangerous by providing violent criminals with a target-rich environment. Having covered the campus carry debate from the beginning, I’ve seen firsthand that the concerns of opponents are largely imaginary. States that have campus carry laws in place have not seen heated classroom debates turn into shootouts, nor have they seen a decline student enrollment.
I’ve also unfortunately seen time and again that declaring campuses to be “gun-free” doesn’t make it so. Whether it’s a high-profile incident like the murders at Michigan State or lesser-reported stories like the shooting on the University of New Mexico campus last November, it’s clear that these policies aren’t actually stopping guns from being brought onto campuses. Instead, they’re just preventing responsible gun owners from protecting themselves if they encounter an armed criminal.
The prospects for campus carry becoming law in West Virginia this year are pretty good, but I’m not nearly as confident about a similar measure in Arizona. SB 1300 was approved by the Senate Military Affairs, Public Safety & Border Security Committee on Wednesday, but with a Democratic governor and a lack of a veto-proof majority in the legislature, the bill unfortunately has some major hurdles to overcome this session. Still, I’m glad to see lawmakers talking about this issue and pushing to ensure that students and faculty don’t give up their right to self-defense once they set foot on campus. We’d all love for colleges and universities to be crime-free utopias, but given the reality of these “gun-free zones”, we at least need to make sure that responsible adults can protect themselves from any predators who see those settings as their hunting ground.