The Mountain State will soon be the latest to allow those with permits to carry concealed guns on college campuses.
On Tuesday, the West Virginia House of Delegates put the finishing touches on Senate Bill 10. By Wednesday, Governor Jim Justice (R.) announced his intention to sign it into law once it reaches his desk.
“I know it’s controversial, but from my standpoint, here’s where I stand: I stand rock solid with our Second Amendment,” Justice said during a press conference Wednesday. “When this bill comes to me, it won’t be with me but just a matter of seconds because I’ll sign it.”
Once signed, the bill will make West Virginia one of twelve states to allow gun carry in most areas of campus without an option for school officials to implement gun bans. It arrives at a time of heightened scrutiny over gun carry after the Supreme Court’s June decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen recognized a constitutional right to carry a gun in public for self-defense. Many blue states have rushed to pass laws cracking down on public gun carry in response to the ruling. Meanwhile, red states have continued to expand where civilians can carry in public and sought to eliminate permitting requirements.
Governor Justice cited frequent mass shootings across the country committed by “bad, bad, bad actors” that occur on “soft targets” as his reasoning for supporting the bill.
“God forbid, but it may very well be that we’ve got somebody on that campus that has a firearm and something bad starts to happen, and they save a bunch of lives,” he said.
Armed bystanders have intervened to stop or prevent mass shootings on numerous occasions throughout the country. Elisjsha Dicken returned fire against a shooter in July 2022 ending an attack on an Indiana mall food court. Similarly, a legally-armed bystander shot a gunman at an El Paso, Texas mall earlier this month.
He also pointed to long-standing campus carry laws in states like Texas that have been on the books “for years and years” to show that the policy can be implemented safely.
The bill would not prevent schools from instituting any and all restrictions on campus carry. But school officials would be limited to baring guns in buildings and other parts of campus with comprehensive security measures, such as metal detectors. Those provisions, however, were not enough to win over opponents of the bill. Some pointed to the recent mass shooting at Michigan State, where an adult not affiliated with the school shot and killed three students on campus, to argue against the bill.
Marshall University student E.T. Bowen said college students already feel “terrified on campus,” and adding more guns would exacerbate that.
“This bill is like throwing kerosene on the wildfire, and it is appalling that we even need to say that while there’s still blood on the ground at Michigan State,” Bowen said.
The bill’s supporters also pointed to prior mass shootings on college campuses. Delegate Mike Honaker (R.) was a state trooper who responded to the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting. He said the prospect of something like that happening again compelled him to give students a chance to defend themselves.
“Please hear me: Years ago, I sat on the foot of my bed with Windex and paper towels and I washed the blood of almost 30 kids off of my shoes because of an active shooter on a college campus,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “I fear that if I do not support this legislation, and it happens again, washing their blood off my shoes will not compare to trying to wash the blood off of my hands.”
The bill ultimately passed overwhelmingly on an 84-14 vote. Once signed, it will take effect on July 1, 2024.