CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia university leaders urged lawmakers in a letter sent Friday to reconsider a bill advancing in the state legislature that would allow for the concealed carry of firearms on college campuses.
The letter — sent to lawmakers by the presidents of West Virginia State University, Concord University and Shepherd University — expressed “deep concern” over the legislation, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee this week and is now on second reading in the full Senate.
The higher education leaders said they "strongly support the second amendment and the right for law abiding citizens to own firearms, but have serious reservations about the significant public safety challenges and financial burdens” the bill would impose.
They said that because of the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, all institutions of higher education are seeing more and more students grappling with mental health challenges and in need of additional support services.
“Introducing firearms into this already challenging environment could have unintended consequences,” they said, noting that access to firearms increases suicide risks.
The presidents of West Virginia University and Marshall University — the state's two largest institutions of higher learning — also sent a letter speaking out against the legislation earlier this week.
West Virginia law currently allows colleges and universities to prohibit guns on their campuses.
The bill, called the “Campus Self-Defense Act," allows an individual holding current and valid license to carry a concealed pistol or revolver on the campus and in the buildings of state institutions of higher education.
It allows institutions to limit the carrying of concealed firearms at organized events taking place at a stadium or arena with a capacity of more than 1,000 spectators, daycare facilities located on university property and a few other exceptions.
Supporters say citizens have a constitutional right carry weapons for self-defense. Similar bills have been introduced during past legislative sessions but failed to gain enough traction to advance.