March 11, 2021
Dear Members of the West Virginia Senate,
There have been no less than four bills introduced during this legislative session that would limit the authority of our Board of Governors to regulate the presence of firearms on our campuses. Providing a safe learning environment for students is the supreme responsibility of any university. For that reason, West Virginia University opposes these pieces of legislation, which in varying forms would allow individuals licensed to carry concealed weapons to carry them on college and university campuses.
We believe that deadly weapons have no place on our campuses, except in the hands of law enforcement personnel or others authorized by the University. And we have always believed that local control by our Board of Governors is the best basis for decisions about security on our campuses around the state.
Under the current system that bans weapons, our well-trained law enforcement staff does an excellent job keeping campuses safe for students, faculty, staff, campus visitors and all those who attend athletic events. Many law enforcement officers believe “campus carry” policies endanger their own lives and make it much more difficult for police to protect the safety of all.
Young adults, who comprise most of our 30,000 students, are still developing emotionally and often engage in conduct that would be made significantly more dangerous by concealed weapons. In this environment, the right to carry concealed guns can increase chances of homicide and suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college age young adults.
At a time when we are seeing more students facing mental health challenges and needing additional mental healthcare, now is not the time to insert firearms into what are already trying situations on campus.
A passionate interplay of ideas enlivens higher education institutions. The presence of guns would have a chilling effect in many situations, from contentious classroom discussions to meetings with faculty members about grades. According to research published in the American Journal of Public Health, “right to carry” laws have been associated with higher rates of firearm workplace homicides.
I have heard firsthand that the presence of guns on campus would discourage many talented students and faculty members from joining our learning community or have those who are here look elsewhere.
We also note that some of these pieces of legislation do not protect our most sensitive areas, including classrooms, patient care areas, large-capacity arenas, areas with research involving chemicals, and campus residence halls.
West Virginia University does currently permit guns on campus in some situations, always with awareness and oversight by the University Police Department. For example, guns are essential to certain academic programs, such as Forensic and Investigative Science, and in athletic competition by our Rifle Team. In unique circumstances, such as a specific and immediate death threat against an individual, the president and the University Police Department can grant a waiver allowing someone to carry a weapon.
Another authorized gun on campus is the traditional musket that our Mountaineer mascot carries at University events. The Mountaineer represents West Virginia’s heritage, and our University takes pride in honoring that heritage and the rights of everyone on campus. Above all, as our state’s land-grant university, we advance the right of all Mountaineers to learn, teach, work and speak without fear in a safe, secure environment.
We urge state lawmakers to reject these pieces of legislation.
E. Gordon Gee
President, West Virginia University