WV college students, faculty sound off over concealed carry on campus
CHARLESTON — One student called it a “hot mess.” Another said it’s a recipe for drunken college parties to turn deadly. A third argued that spirited classroom debates could end in shootouts.
West Virginia college students sounded off Thursday following a House vote to allow people with concealed-weapons permits to bring guns onto campuses, and many students are not happy.
The proposal has drawn the ire of students and professors since its introduction, but after lawmakers approved the measure 59-41 Wednesday night after more than three raucous hours of debate, a refreshed wave of questions and anger emerged.
“Just trying to work through this logically. There’s not a real good argument I can make on why this makes sense,” said Roark Sizemore, a 21-year-old political science major and president pro tempore of the West Virginia University Student Assembly. “It just seems really crazy.”
Sizemore wondered whether classroom arguments about politics, which he said sometimes become heated, could either be cut short or turn violent if students are armed.
“In my mind, adding a gun into that, who knows what can happen,” he said.
WVU English major Hannah Jack had a similar concern.
“Personally, I do see it as a threat to free speech,” said Jack, 20. “No one should be hesitant to express their ideas for fear that it could lead to violence.”
At Marshall University, President Jerome Gilbert and the faculty senate released statements condemning the bill.
“I’m completely opposed to guns on college campuses and believe we are risking the lives of our students and employees if this legislation is passed,” Gilbert said, urging senators to “do the right thing” and oppose the bill when it is before them.
“On behalf of the Marshall University faculty senate, I would like to indicate that, based on our senators’ votes in four separate instances and in support of President Jerome Gilbert, Marshall University faculty remain overwhelmingly opposed to allowing the presence of concealed guns on college campuses,” said Philippe Georgel, faculty senate chairman. “As has been previously stated by Dr. Gilbert, Chief J.E. Terry of the Marshall University Police Department, and several local authorities, authorizing concealed weapons on our campus will negatively impact the safety and security of our students, faculty and staff.”
Mason County Republican Del. Jim Butler’s bill allows colleges to ban firearms from stadiums with more than 1,000 seats, day-care centers and campus law enforcement buildings. Proponents said the proposal would make campuses safer.
“We’re going to send them into the world unarmed. That’s literally what the opposition to this bill wants - send your children into the world unarmed,” Del. Brandon Steele, a Raleigh County Republican, told lawmakers before the bill was approved. “We owe our students, our young people, the ability to protect themselves, and any argument we come up against it at this point is a fallacy.”
Another lawmaker said the legislation is about empowering women in the era of #MeToo.
“For the last year we’ve talked about believing women, and today we have the opportunity to take that a step further and say, ‘Not only are we going to believe you, but we’re going to give you the ability to protect yourself,’” said Del. Kayla Kessinger, a Fayette County Republican.
But Anna Davis-Abel, a WVU graduate student who also teaches English courses to younger students at the college, said more guns on campus will result in disaster. She recalled a scene where she had to confront one of her freshman students over an instance of plagiarism. The man became “hysterical,” she said. His hands shook. His face became beet-red. He shouted that she was ruining his life as he positioned himself between her and the door.
“What would have happened if he had a gun on his hip?” asked Davis-Abel, 24.
Asked if she would have felt safer if she was also armed, Davis-Abel said no.
“My office is the size of a walk-in closet. Us firing back at one another would have been a Tarantino film,” she said, referencing the filmmaker known for stylized scenes of violence.
The Marshall Interfraternity Council is having a town hall meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 6, in Smith Hall 105 to allow students to further voice their opinions on the bill.
Ten states allow for concealed carrying on college campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. West Virginia’s bill now moves to the Senate for more debate.