Understanding the Bill

Campuses across the state are in a tizzy over today’s vote on the Campus Self Defense Act.  With the help of national gun control groups, a small but dedicated team is mobilizing to preserve the power of public universities to expel any student (and fire any staff or faculty member) who carries a firearm onto campus.  Predictions of intentional and accidental violence paint a picture of what one organizer called a “descent into wild, wild West barbarity.”

To understand why the bill makes sense, you have to understand the way things are now:

It’s currently legal to carry on campus without any permit at all. While students and faculty cannot be legally prosecuted if the firearm is seen, they will be expelled or fired.

This bill does not “allow guns on campus”. It does two things:
1) It formalizes a requirement to undergo a background check and safety training through the permitting process for anyone who wants to carry on campus and stay in school.
2) It outlaws university punishment of permit-holders for exercising rights guaranteed in the state and federal constitutions on public property.

Dire Predictions

For those of us who are familiar with firearms, it is difficult to understand the scenarios of mayhem opponents of this bill are imagining. This state currently has one of the highest per capita rates of firearm ownership in the nation — and residents don’t even need a permit to carry concealed — but according to the West Virginia Health Statistics Center, only 2 people in the entire state died of accidental shooting in 2017.  In 2015, the number was zero.

The scenarios of homicide are equally confusing.  A student afraid of expulsion is not a student who becomes homicidal at the drop of a hat. Anyone willing to be shot by police (or go to prison for the rest of their lives) has no reason to care about academic achievement or a permitting process.  (Again, permit holders are almost entirely 21 years of age or older, and all are required to undergo background checks and safety training.)

Thankfully, we have a very sensible way of predicting what will happen if the Campus Self Defense Act passes.  Eleven other states have already implemented no-expulsion carry policies.  What carnage have we seen in those states?  None.

Earlier this week, WVU’s newspaper, the Daily Athenaeum, published an interview with Prof. Coleman Hutchison of the University of Texas, where campus carry is already a reality. They asked him what changes could be expected.

“The truth is, I don’t think there have been a ton of changes on campus since the policy actually went into effect. The biggest changes happened in the deliberative process,” Hutchison said. “It’s an incredibly complicated process for a community. That’s the most unfortunate thing about the legislation and the implementation of the policies, is that it led to a lot of bad feelings, anger and protests.”

In other words, absolutely nothing happened, except the people getting upset about it. That is what he identifies as the primary negative change.

Core Issue

But fundamentally, this is a matter of rights. Even the bill’s opposition acknowledges that retribution against students for carrying on public property violates the Constitution.  House Republican John Mandt said it clearly:

“Although it is a Constitutional Right, I am a NO vote IF this sees the floor. Marshall is in my district and I hear my District loud and clear.”

It is unfortunate that Mr. Mandt does not recognize the fundamental nature of rights: They are not subject to popular vote.  That is their essence.