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The House Education Committee advanced Friday legislation that would require public two-year and four-year colleges to allow people to carry concealed guns on their campuses, including in their buildings and at sporting events, if those individuals have permits.
The bill passed on a voice vote with multiple "no's heard, and it's now heading to the House Judiciary Committee.
Matt Turner, executive vice chancellor of administration for the state agencies overseeing public colleges, wrote in an email that college boards of governors "have the local authority, as property owners, to determine whether they wish to permit deadly weapons, concealed or otherwise, on their campuses.
He referred to part of existing state law that says, generally, that an entity or individual "may prohibit the carrying openly or concealing of any firearm or deadly weapon on property under his or her domain.
Turner said that, as far as he knows, all the state's public colleges, two-year and four-year, disallow deadly weapons on campus.
West Virginia State University President Anthony Jenkins said all the public Mountain State four-year colleges are opposed to the bill (House Bill 4298). He said many campuses have summer camps with children, and he brought up possibly dangerous situations, like packed rivalry sports games for which people have been "pre-gaming, or fraternity events with excessive drinking, or a student conduct matter where a student is about to face discipline.
He said colleges should be "grounds where we use our emotional intelligence and our intellectual capacity to agree to disagree, and to interject weapons changes the very foundation of what higher education is supposed to be about. He said colleges shouldn't become the "O.K. Corral.
"Let me speak for West Virginia State University, because I'm the president, Jenkins said. "I don't want gun-toting students on campus, and I don't want gun-toting faculty and staff and administrators on campus.
Under current law, the severity of punishments for carrying weapons onto campuses currently varies greatly between those visiting colleges and those working for or attending them, according to university officials and Art Thomm, a representative of the National Rifle Association. Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason and lead sponsor of the bill, said the legislation is mostly based on model legislation the NRA provided after he reached out to that organization.
Students and college employees can face penalties as severe as expulsion and termination if they violate a college's own established ban on guns. But if a visitor brings a gun onto campus and gets caught with it, Thomm and Rob Alsop, West Virginia University's vice president for strategic initiatives, said the college can ask the person to leave, and if they agree, that's all the punishment they face.
Butler said the purpose of the law is to equalize the situation.
"The faculty can't and the student can't [carry], they risk being fired or being expelled, he said. "So, this law if it passes would give the students and the faculty really the same selfdefense right that everybody else has. Really the whole thrust of this is to give everybody the equal opportunity to protect themselves.
The bill states a few areas where a college would still be able to "regulate possession of firearms. Those are "a stadium or arena with a capacity of more than 5,000 spectators; "a daycare facility on the college property, and "in the secure area of any building used by a law-enforcement agency on the college property.
Alsop said WVU only has two venues that big: Milan Puskar Stadium and the WVU Coliseum. Jenkins said WVSU has one arena that large. Bluefield State President Marsha Krotseng told the House Education Committee Friday that her college has no venues that large, and noted her entire enrollment is less than 5,000.
Butler said he doesn't support the exceptions, but said the NRA said these were colleges' biggest objections in other states, so he included them "as sort of a concession or a compromise.
Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, opposed the bill overall Friday and said he wanted to make several amendments to it, like allowing students to refuse being assigned to a dorm room with someone with a gun, but he knew they wouldn't pass in House Education.
"I think it creates so many problems and doesn't solve any, Rowe said. "Why aren't we allowing those institutions to make by rule where it's appropriate and inappropriate?
Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell, who opposed the bill, raised concerns about tailgating sports fans in parking lots and said he has a son in the 11th grade.
"I need to know when I send my son [to college] he's going to be safe, Evans said.
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