West Virginia brings gun law to campus despite student alert

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – West Virginia lawmakers on Wednesday voted to introduce legislation that would allow people with concealed carry permits to bring firearms onto campuses of state colleges and universities, despite overwhelming opposition from frustrated students who came to the Capitol to testify against.

Some college students traveled for hours to Charleston to oppose the bill at a public hearing by the House Judiciary Committee, which was held before lawmakers voted to bring the proposal to the full House of Representatives. The law passed the Senate last month and was publicly opposed by leaders at the state’s largest universities.

The bill came just two days after a shooting at Michigan State University hundreds of miles away that killed three people and wounded five others. Tragedy loomed over the West Virginia Capitol as lawmakers gathered to listen to the public hearing.

Marshall University student E.T. Bowen said students were already “so scared on campus.”

“We don’t need more guns to make this worse. This bill is like throwing kerosene into wildfire and it’s appalling that we have to even say that while there’s still blood on the ground in the state of Michigan,” Bowen said.

Bowen told lawmakers the students would not forget “how recklessly you have all neglected our safety and well-being in favor of profit and political gain.”

About 40 people — many of them students or faculty members — came to speak at the hearing against the proposal that would allow those with a license to carry a concealed handgun or revolver to bring the weapon on campus. The two people speaking in support represented both organizations working for gun owners’ rights.

READ :  College international programs, ravaged by COVID, show signs of a return

The bill strictly prohibits the open carrying of a firearm on a college or university campus and allows colleges to implement exceptions. It also bans people from bringing guns into areas with a capacity of more than 1,000 spectators — for example, stadiums for soccer games — or into day care centers on campus.

Similar laws have already been passed in 11 other states, including Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas and Oregon.

Before speaking out against the bill, Dr. Jim McJunkin, a physician who represents the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said his thoughts are with the victims of the state of Michigan and their families. He expressed concern that having access to firearms on campus could increase students’ risk of suicide.

Bella Mitchell, a senior at West Virginia University and a member of the Student Government Association, said the prospect of allowing guns on campus “encourages an environment of distrust, insecurity and fear.”

“We feel like it’s completely unnecessary,” she said.

Keeley Wildman read a statement for her sister, who was a freshman at Philip Barbour High School in the small town of Philippi, West Virginia, where a 14-year-old boy, armed with a handgun, took a teacher and several classmates hostage in 2015 .

She described seeing police surrounding the school and hiding in a closet with strangers when they received texts and calls from family members.

“In the years that followed, which were to be the best years of my life, I never felt safe in school,” Wildman said, wiping tears from her eyes once as she read her sister’s account. “I experienced panic attacks, nightmares, and increased anxiety.”

READ :  GIVING - Naples Florida Weekly

But supporters of the law said they were also worried about gun violence on campus, and they believe allowing people with concealed carry permits to carry guns would help.

Art Thomm, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, told lawmakers the Michigan state shooting is precisely the reason people with concealed carry permits are allowed to have guns on campus. The Michigan shooting was committed in an area where guns are not allowed, by a person unaffiliated with the university who illegally acquired the gun, he said.

“Our loved ones deserve the right to defend themselves against a fatal attack in a gun-free zone without having to choose between work, education or their lives,” he said.

Before voting to pass the bill, Republican supporter Del. Mike Honaker on his experience as a former Virginia police officer responding to the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting. Along with two other officers, the Marine Corps veteran was responsible for sending half of the death notices to the 32 families who lost loved ones.

“I know we have to be careful on this issue,” he said. “But there is no way I, as someone who has experienced this and seen this with my own eyes, can forbid another free, law-abiding American citizen to carry a firearm and retain the ability and ability to defend yourself or others, God forbid.” that they will ever be able to do so.”

The bill would allow exceptions in rooms where a disciplinary process is being conducted against students or staff and says guns can be restricted in specially designated areas where patient care or psychological counseling is offered.

READ :  Peninsula College approves an honorary doctorate for a former student

Schools would be allowed to regulate firearms in residence halls but not in public areas, including lounges, dining areas and study areas. The bill requires that colleges and universities either provide a secure location for storing a handgun or revolver in at least one on-campus dorm room — or provide safes in dorm rooms, which may incur a fee.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.