Lawmakers speed up pace for campus carry bill

A public hearing about a campus carry bill was held Monday at the state Capitol. (WV Legislative Photography/Perry Bennett).  

CHARLESTON — During a public hearing Monday afternoon, most speakers, including police officers and higher education officials, said they opposed a campus carry bill lawmakers are currently considering.

Gun rights activists, including several members of the West Virginia Citizens Defense League, a representative of the National Rifle Association and some individuals spoke in favor of House Bill 2519, which would allow those with valid licenses to concealed carry on campus.

Opponents outnumbered proponents by about a three-to-one ratio.

Several speakers worried about the prevalence of mental health problems on college campuses, as well as experimentation with drugs and alcohol.   

"We know that suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people and the majority, 80 percent of these young people, kill themselves with a gun," said Sarah Beasley, dean of students at Concord University. "Suicide is often an impulsive decision. Easy access to guns will likely result in more attempts and more attempts being successful."

Several proponents said that students could use guns for protection. 

"According to a campus sexual assault study, one in five female college students is sexually assaulted," said Art Thomm, of the National Rifle Association. "There's clearly a reason for women who have valid state-issued permits to do so on college campus." 

According to the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, self-defense gun use is rare and not more effective at preventing injury than other protective actions. The Center says firearms are used far more often to intimidate than in self-defense.

The Center also states that a study of more than 300 sexual assault cases found not one incident where a woman used a gun to protect herself. 

Members of law enforcement, including local and campus police, said they would have to hire officers, add training and enhance security, including purchasing metal detectors for schools. 

"We will have to look at every call that we take on our campus as a possible situation where a firearm may be involved," added William Chedester, campus police chief at West Virginia University.

Matthew Swain, chief of police at Fairmont State University, noted that police go through more extensive firearms training than students would. 

"And we only have a 30 percent accuracy rate in stressful situations," he said.

Amber Perry, a college student, said West Virginia Citizens Defense League members lobby for no pay.

"I am here for the people who are at work right now, who are in class right now, who couldn't be here for whatever reason," she said. 

"Firearms are part of the West Virginia identity,” added Taylor Giles, a WVU student. “Our state’s flagship institution has a mascot who carries a gun.”

Jim McJunkin, a retired intensive care pediatrician, said the bill would increase the risk for unintentional injuries. He spoke of a 3-year-old patient left quadriplegic, and who had to breathe with a ventilator, after his older brother found a gun loaded and improperly stored.

"That little boy's story is the reason I’m standing here today," he said.

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