homepage logo

Firearms at college: The ‘campus carry’ bill

By Staff | Apr 12, 2019

One of the most talked about bills during this year’s regular session of the West Virginia legislature was one called the “campus carry” bill. Thankfully, it did not pass.

This bill would have permitted college students to bring firearms onto the campus at every public college or university in West Virginia. Almost all academia across the state was opposed to this idea. College presidents, professors, administrators, law enforcement officials and students showed up en masse to lobby against the bill.

The same bill, championed by the National Rifle Association, had been presented to the legislature last year.

The reason it failed last year was because of a strong effort by West Virginia University President Gordon Gee to oppose it. This year, Gee was absent from the fight.

Gee apparently thought opposition would be futile this year, so he negotiated with the NRA to get some concessions. The NRA did agree to some minor concessions, and Gee abandoned the fight.

But nobody else went AWOL. Five college presidents, led by Jerome Gilbert of Marshall University, lobbied the legislature intensely. The other presidents were Mirta Martin (Fairmont), Anthony Jenkins (West Virginia State), Kendra Boggess (Concord) and Rob Capehart (Bluefield State). Most of those presidents were at the capitol to lobby on other issues, but they made sure legislators knew they were against the bill.

Students, faculty, administrators and police officers came from these schools and others (including WVU) to lobby against campus carry. Their presence was critical in the bill’s eventual defeat.

Just as critical in the demise of campus carry was the herculean effort of Delegate John Shott, of Mercer County and Chair of the House Judiciary Committee. He offered about a dozen amendments to the bill on the House floor. All were styled in such a way to call attention to what he believed were flaws in the idea of allowing students to carry guns on campus. Chairman Shott made passionate arguments in favor of each of those amendments.

Only one of those amendments was adopted (that one by merely a two-vote margin), and the House of Delegates passed the bill. I voted against it.

When it got to the Senate, most observers thought it would pass. But it failed in the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 9-7. I’m convinced the failure of campus carry was the result of intense lobbying by hundreds of citizens, and the courageous stand taken by Delegate Shott.

As to Gee, I think he made a serious error in judgment, believing the bill was going to pass no matter what anyone did to stop it. And he compounded his embarrassment by appearing to belittle Marshall University and its President Gilbert. When Gilbert’s courageous efforts were pointed out to Gee, the WVU president said something like “hey, nobody pays attention to Marshall.” He later tried to pass that remark off as a joke, and it may indeed have been intended to be just that. But under the circumstances it fell very flat.

I hope the campus carry bill is dead for several years. But one never knows when it comes to the legislature. If campus carry comes up again, I hope Gee will rejoin the fight.