On April 12, Shepherd University put together a panel discussion to listen to one another’s perspectives after the news on the passing of The WV Campus Self-Defense Act, otherwise known as the Campus Conceal and Carry Law. At the beginning of the session, Dr. Mary J.C. Hendrix, president of Shepherd University, set the tone of the discussion by voicing her thoughts and feelings.
“We are all here because we want to feel safe…It is hard to imagine during these tumultuous times, where school shootings are at a rise and mental health issues challenge our student population, that the best approach for gun violence is to add more guns.”
Also presented at the discussion were Senator Jason Barrett, Delegate Paul Espinosa, Delegate Mike Hite, and Delegate Chuck Horst. Ashley Horst, the executive director of the Stubblefield Institute for Political and Civil Communications at Shepherd University, announced that all of them were attending to hear the audience’s perspectives on the law’s passing by listening to the questions being asked later on in the session and breakout groups. Two students who spoke during the breakout sessions indicated they were on the side of no guns.
One of them said, “I’m an RA. I’m more concerned about the future RA’s and their training to take that position. As well as how they will handle the protocols necessary for active shooting.”
The other student said, “I’m a freshman. I’m terrified of what will happen to future students with easy access to guns when dealing with a mental health crisis. I shouldn’t sit in classes scared that someone will suddenly pull out their guns during a lecture.”
Throughout the session, everyone who had organized the panel discussion made it clear: they wanted to create a safe and secure environment for the students and faculty who work there. While they did know that many people agreed with the bill, it was essential to have an open mind on the matter and listen to the words that everyone spoke.
Hans Fogle, a public information officer for Jefferson County Schools, was the moderator when the session moved onto the panel discussion and questions. The panelists included Holly Morgan Frye, vice president for Student Affairs and Director of Community Relations; Alan Perdue, general counsel; Dr. Joshua H. Stout, an assistant professor of criminal justice; Wendy Baracka, director of counseling services; Officer R.J. James, SUPD; Chloe Bailey ’23, a political science major; Genevieve Blodgett ’25, a nursing major, and Aaron Matthews ’25, a pre-med biology major.
This section of the panel was an overview of the bill, what precautions were being made, and what planning on making for when the bill is fully effective.
“What this bill does, the Campus Self Defense Act is to significantly restrict our ability to continue to restrict the carrying of handguns as to persons who have a concealed carry permit,” Alan Perdue explained.
He then reviewed the exceptions within the handout given to everyone attending the discussion: organized events at a stadium or arena, daycare facilities, on-campus room(s) where student or employee disciplinary proceedings are being held, and many more. As well, he also discussed the route of installing cameras on campus and lockers for students with guns within the residence halls.
Next was the discussion of research done throughout the years of school shootings and various crimes on campus.
“More guns on campus have not reduced episodes of mass violence. In fact, what we continue to see across the criminological research is that more guns tend to lead to more violence.” Dr. Joshua Stout shares.
What was discussed was that these policies involving gun laws have impacted negatively on multiple groups of students. Women with sexual assault, students of color with statements from other colleges that applied “heavy pro-white, anti-minority framework” intentions, suicide with easy firearm access among college students, and college lifestyles on-campus student events.
With other panelists, like Wendy Baracka, sharing what the counseling services plan on doing to help students going through a mental health crisis who possess a firearm and Officer R.J. James sharing their goals on responding to an active shooting on campus, the student panelists shared what they thought on the passing of the law.
Aaron Matthew said, “In my sight, I see this as both helpful and can also have some negative impact.”
He then goes on to explain the implications of safety on campus, securing buildings more, and the increasing of cameras. Unfortunately, he was cut off during his explanation, but he wants to see the improvements in security around campus as we move forward with “living with this bill.”
Chloe Bailey said, “Most student concerns have been surrounded by safety.”
She then explains that people have been concerned about the increase in sexual assault and violence and describes that many think about the possibilities of a student on campus, thinking that they should play the hero role in the event of an active shooting. Near the end of the statement, she says that “they [students] almost feel compelled by the passage of this law to start carrying in the fall of 2024 because if everyone else is carrying, it’s safest for them to carry.”
Genevieve Blodgett said, “I’m in support of Senate Bill 10. When I found out that Senate Bill 10 was passing in West Virginia, I felt a sense of relief.”
She explains that she has been in numerous shooting competitions, state and national since she was 14 years old, and with her knowledge of guns, she can feel the need to protect herself. In addition, as a woman, there are disadvantages between the physicality of men and women, so she can threaten the attacker away with her gun and go free from harm’s way.
She also understands many people’s fear regarding discussing guns around campus. However, those that want to carry around campus “will not be threatening you in any way” because the main goal that both opposing sides have is safety.
While not all questions were answered that night, and with many more rising as time goes on, there will be another self-defense campus discussion will occur in September for more updates on what is to occur on campus, for the chance to bring up answers to the unanswered questions and to allow more questions to be asked.
In addition, the Campus Conceal and Carry Law will be in effect by July 2024. Shepherd University ensures that all the necessary precautions are taking place to have a safe place for all students, faculty, and anyone else who comes to see the campus.