East Campus at Shepherd University. Photo provided by Amanda Barber.

Shepherd Faculty Senate, professors and students comment on Campus Carry legislation

The Shepherd University Faculty Senate is opposing a bill that would permit public college faculty, staff and students with a concealed carry license to bring a gun on campus.

Current state law does not prohibit concealed carry on college campuses. However, institutions are allowed to set their own policies and punishments regarding firearm possession on campus. Shepherd does not allow the possession of firearms except for educational and law enforcement purposes.

During an emergency session on March 5, the Faculty Senate approved “Resolution to Oppose SB 246, Relating to Concealed Carry on Campus.” The Classified Employees Council endorsed the resolution on March 9.

The resolution lists negative effects on education and safety risks as reasons to oppose Senate Bill 246.

“Whereas, firearms in the classroom are counterproductive to an open, effective learning environment;” the resolution states. “ … Whereas, the presence of guns in student housing and other campus buildings presents a serious risk of injury or death to students, staff, and the campus community;”

Dr. Dawn Burke, Storer College Scholar and Associate Professor of Education, says she worries that professors’ safety will be at risk if SB 246 is passed by the legislature.

“For any professor who has been targeted by an anger enraged student whose perception is skewed, I can only imagine how giving those same students permission to activate that rage with combined firearm access might be proactively and hotly pursued,” Burke said.

English professor Dr. Heidi Hanrahan helped draft the Faculty Senate’s resolution. Hanrahan worries that allowing concealed carry on campus could have negative impacts on student safety, especially because of increased stress caused by COVID-19.

“They will not make us safer, but make us less safe,” Hanrahan says. “Especially now, when students are feeling so much added stress and anxiety due to the pandemic, having guns on campus is just a bad idea.”

The Faculty Senate’s resolution also discussed mental health concerns for students.

“Whereas, depression is the most common mental health issue for which college students seek counseling and depression significantly increases the risk of suicide, and having a firearm present increases the risk of suicide by gunshot;” the resolution states.

A Shepherd student who wishes to remain anonymous says they are okay with concealed carry on campus but not open carry.

“I’m okay with concealed carrying on campus because people who are legally allowed to conceal a firearm in the first place have to take a class in order to gain licensure to do so,” the student says. “They’re more responsible. Open carry firearms should not be allowed.”

However, West Virginia gun laws only require 18- to 20-year-olds to obtain a Provisional Concealed Handgun License (CHL) in order to concealed carry. Individuals seeking a CHL must take a firearms training course in handling and firing a handgun.

Individuals in the state do not need a license to concealed carry if they are:

    • A citizen or legal resident of the U.S.
    • At least 21 years old
    • Legally entitled to own a firearm under state and federal law

Shepherd student Chris Davidson says he does not believe that allowing concealed carry on campus would increase shootings. Although, Davidson says he understands how concealed carry at colleges could cause issues.

“In a state with stricter gun laws, I feel as if allowing people to concealed carry on campus wouldn’t inherently increase the risk of shootings,” Davidson says. “However, because West Virginia doesn’t require you to get a license or register a gun to concealed carry, problems could arise.”

Shepherd Student Edwina Heroe says colleges already face many problems, and she feels that guns will add to those problems and increase the chances of a campus shooting.

“College is a place defined by drugs, alcohol, sex, and quite a few people who are losing their minds; why would anyone want to add guns to that mix?” Heroe says. “I also believe that with the conceal to carry legislation that’ll possibly increase the chances of an active school shooting that can easily be avoided.”

Shelby Johnson, a West Virginia University student, recently wrote an article for the Times West Virginia in which she opposes SB 246.

In the article, Johnson mentions that U.S. Marshals shot and killed a fugitive near the campus of WVU in March 2019. Similarly, U.S. Marshals apprehend a fugitive on the campus of Shepherd on Feb 16. Fortunately, there were no fatalities in the recent incident. 

Johnson says she feels the situation in 2019 could have gone worse had WVU students been allowed to concealed carry firearms at the time.

“I learned later of the fugitive chase and of course, I am grateful that the fugitive in this case was detained, however I cannot imagine how differently the events that day may have played out had students on campus that day been carrying concealed weapons and decided to take matters into their own hands,” Johnson says.

The Institute for Legislative Action for the National Rifle Association released a statement that supports allowing licensed adults to carry firearms for self-defense on university campuses. 

“Current state law does not prohibit carrying of defensive firearm on campus, but institution policy may lead to expulsion or termination of employment,” the NRA-ILA says. “Adults who are officially licensed to carry a firearm for self-defense should not be prevented from doing so just because they seek higher education.”

Burke disagrees with the NRA-ILA and says that firearm possession should not be allowed in schools if guns are not permitted in legislative buildings.

“If guns are such a good idea for schoolhouses, then why are they forbidden in statehouses?” Burke says. “I have always operated under the distinct impression that democracy means: That which is offered to the one must also be offered to the many.”

Burke says that relaxing the firearm laws is not the solution in a country that has faced problems with guns.

“Gun rage has been activated in this country for some time now,” Burke says. “Guns have no place on university campuses, classrooms, laboratories, rehearsal halls, art studios, soccer pitches, football stadiums or the like because guns are not the answer here!”

The WV Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Feb. 12. Photo courtesy of Will Price.

Sen. Mark Maynard, R-Wayne, is the lead sponsor of SB 246. The Senate Judiciary Committee has not yet voted on the bill Maynard introduced on Feb. 12.

The NRA-ILA’s statement asks West Virginians to contact committee members about supporting SB 246.

“[SB 246] ensures that law-abiding adults are not stripped of their right to self-defense when they cross an arbitrary boundary onto a college campus,” the NRA-ILA states. “Please contact committee members and ask them to support SB 246.”

Hanrahan says she hopes lawmakers will think carefully before deciding on SB 246 and maintains that Shepherd faculty are against the bill.

“I hope the legislature listens to all the experts on gun violence, mental health and college students, and listens to people on the ground in higher education,” Hanrahan says. “We don’t want this bill to pass and hope they act accordingly.”

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