UPDATE: Public voices support and concern of campus carry bill

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WV MetroNews/WSAZ) -- UPDATE 2/11/19 @ 8:30 p.m.
West Virginians are already allowed to carry a firearm without a permit, but House Bill 2519, also called the Campus Self Defense Act, would let those who have a concealed carry license to do so on college campuses.

Dozens gathered Monday in the House chamber to voice their opinions on the bill.

Art Thomm, an NRA member and parent of a high school senior who hopes to go to college in West Virginia, voiced his support of the bill.

"This bill simply empowers men and women to protect themselves from violent attacks by allowing additional safety measures for the campuses,” Thomm said.

Among those who voiced their opposition were members of law enforcement, including campus police who expressed concerns over the potential costs.

"We’ll have to complete security updates to buildings, additional equipment for officers,” said West Virginia University Chief of Police, William Chedester.

Others brought up that colleges are also a place where debates take place and how adding guns could be problematic.

"Not so much in the buildings where we are having these heated discussions, where we are having these issues in our dorm rooms,” said Fairmont State University Chief of Police Matt Swain.

Several educators and parents addressed the national and state mental health crisis.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, West Virginia ranks 11th in national suicide death rates.

"Easy access to guns will likely result in more attempts and more attempts being successful,” said Concord University Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Sarah Beasley.

Despite the opposing viewpoints, those who spoke have a common goal keeping students and faculty safe.

The House of Delegates Judiciary Committee will host a public hearing Monday afternoon at the state capitol in connection with a campus carry bill.

House Bill 2519, called The Campus Self Defense Act, would require colleges to allow those licensed to carry a concealed deadly weapon to do so on campus and in campus buildings.

The bill includes some exceptions from the requirement including events in campus sports arenas with more than 1,500 seats, campus daycare centers, campus police headquarters and private events.

Some states that have campus carry allow firearms in residence halls. House Bill 2519 doesn’t address the situation but that may change, according to House Judiciary Chairman John Shott.

“Our bill is silent on that but that’s certainly an issue we will be developing,” Shott said.

The public hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. in the House Chamber.

“I think if you’re interested in local control or choice, individual choice, you certainly ought to plan on attending that public hearing and monitoring the progress of that bill,” Shott said.

According to the bill, its purpose is “to allow a person who holds a current and valid license to carry a concealed deadly weapon to carry such a weapon on the campus and in the buildings of a state institution of higher education. It provides exceptions and immunity to an institution for a licensee’s intentional or unintentional use of a firearm while carrying it under the act.

“The bill seeks to acknowledge that violence against disarmed law-abiding citizens is an increasing, but unnecessary, occurrence. The bill is an attempt by the Legislature to reaffirm a law-abiding citizen’s Second Amendment Right, the right to protect themselves by allowing legally licensed and permitted employees, staff, and students of public universities the right to legally carry a concealed weapon within specified limitations”

Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, is the bill’s chief sponsor.

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