The Campus Self-Defense Act, also known as Senate Bill 10, was passed in West Virginia on Jan. 24. While many members of the West Virginia state government seem overjoyed at this new bill, campuses across the state have some differing views.
Signed by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on March 3, this law allows citizens of West Virginia who have a concealed carry permit to carry firearms on campuses of higher education institutions. The firearms in question only include pistols or revolvers. All other firearms are forbidden to be on campus grounds.
“I’m proud to sign the Campus Self-Defense Act which will strengthen Second Amendment protections in West Virginia,” Gov. Justice said during a speech on the day he signed the law. “I’ve always said I will do everything I can to protect West Virginia’s Second Amendment rights, and with this law, West Virginia will continue to be a national leader.”
“The Campus Self-Defense Act recognizes the fact that danger doesn’t disappear just because you’ve stepped onto campus grounds,” State Director of Legislative Affairs of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action Art Thomm said in a speech alongside Gov. Justice. “Now, those who choose to exercise the right will have the ability to protect themselves, their classmates, and their loves ones should they need.”
Those who opposed the law expressed much concern that stress, alcohol use, and mental health issues would influence some who carry a firearm on campus to injure or kill themselves and/or others. They also said that the vast majority of presidents of West Virginian higher education institutions, such as Marshall University President Brad Smith and West Virginia University President Gordon Gee, have strongly opposed it. In fact, opponents in the West Virginia House of Delegates and the Senate said that not a single university official supported the law.
The Campus Self-Defense Act was passed in the House of Delegates in a vote of 84-13. It was then made into a law by the Senate in a vote of 29-4.
Both staff and students at Shepherd University, located in Shepherdstown have voiced their concerns about the passing of the Campus Self-Defense Act. In a letter to the state legislature, Shepherd University President Mary Hendrix along with West Virginia State University (not to be confused with West Virginia University) President Ericke Cage and Concord University President Kendra Boggess stated the following:
“Introducing firearms into this already challenging environment could have unintended consequences,” they said about the law in January. “As under resourced institutions that continue to adapt to the economic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, we simply do not have the financial resources to implement and administer the requirements of Senate Bill 10.”
In an email sent to all students on campus on March 1, President Hendrix outlined Shepherd University’s response to the new law:
“The University has formed a Campus Security Task Force, under the leadership of Holly Morgan Frye, Vice President for Student Affairs, comprised of a diverse working group (representing students, faculty, staff, police, and community members) to develop thorough compliance plans.”
There are currently a tremendous number of Shepherd University students who believe that the number of suicides will increase as an outcome to this law’s effect.
“College is a time where students are experiencing new and possibly negative things, such as alcohol and stress,” said sophomore Mia Clark. “Allowing people to carry guns on campus worries me because students’ bad mental health possibly mixed with the new stress and alcohol can lead people to hurt themselves or worse.”
Other students expressed concern about the possibility of a shooting on campus.
“How do they see all these recent mass shootings and school shootings and say “Hey, do you know what we need? More guns!’” said junior Flynn Mitchell. “This isn’t going to protect us. If anything, it puts us in more danger of someone who has anger in their heart and a gun in their pocket.”
When asked about the law, senior Oliver Mackey recalled when Desmond Davis, who was running from the police and had charges relating to drugs and robbery, was on campus grounds in February 2021. Shepherd University sent an alert to the students to be on the lookout for a homicide suspect, yet Davis was not wanted for homicide. Davis was arrested after being found hiding underneath the baseball bleachers.
“I remember when that alert was sent out about the fugitive on campus. They said he was wanted for homicide. Even if he wasn’t, what would have happened if he had a gun? What if in the future, there’s an actual homicide suspect with a gun? They’ll think it’s okay to be here with a lethal weapon. People are going to end up hurt because of this law, whether it be by their own hand or by someone else’s,” Mackey said.
The Campus Self-Defense Act takes effect in July 2024. Although it is a year away, staff and students today fear what the law’s results will be.