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Campus carry bill receives support and opposition in public hearing

The "Campus Self Defense Act," House Bill 2519, was the focus of many college students and leaders in higher education Monday evening. (WCHS/WVAH)

The "Campus Self Defense Act," House Bill 2519, was the focus of many college students and leaders in higher education Monday evening.

It was a long discussion back and forth on the House floor as members of the public were given the chance to speak about campus carry.

Many were parents, who boldly said why they believe college campuses should allow guns to be carried on campus, while some law enforcement officers and college faculty said House Bill 2519 needs work before passing it is an option.

"I ask you today to protect our daughters. Give them the right to go to college and protect themselves, not one or the other," a woman said at the public hearing.

A law enforcement officer said law enforcement is opposed to the legislation.

"We feel that it needs further study, and that these young adults are making critical decisions in their lives, sometimes experimenting with drugs and alcohol and other issues, and conflict relationships," the officer said.

Del. Caleb Hanna, R-Webster, is a student at West Virginia State University and also a sponsor of the bill.

"I think everyone should have the right to defend themselves regardless of where you work or where you study," Hanna said.

The university's president, Anthony Jenkins, said when it comes to public safety, campus carry is a complicated issue.

"We believe that introducing weapons into the fundamental core of higher education moves us away from who we are. We've not had the opportunity to really vet this bill and have a comprehensive discussion with lawmakers about what some of our concerns are," Jenkins said.

The university president said his main concern is about where guns would ultimately be permitted.

"They should be banned from counseling sessions. Well, the bill supports them being in counseling sessions, to me that's not common sense. The bill will support them being in housing. We would support them not being in residential facilities," Jenkins said.

With constitutional carry passed in 2016, anyone over the age of 21 can conceal carry without a license.

"But we also have anyone from 18 to 21 can carry with a provisional license, and provisional licenses are also included in the bill, so when you look at the makeup of a college campus, most kids do range between 18 and 21, so most people will have taken a certified gun instruction class," Hanna said.

Jenkins pointed out that a number of kids, under 18, stay on WVSU's campus for summer camps and share the residence halls with college students who are taking summer courses. Throughout the year, high school kids take college courses on campus.

"That's problematic, but yet we've not talked about that in this bill. We want to make sure we get this right, that's the most important thing to us, because as the presidents of these institutions we are ultimately responsible for the safety of these young lives," Jenkins said.

As a military veteran, Jenkins said he supports Second Amendment rights, but he said this is a separate issue about how to keep campuses safe. He said there needs to be a broader, more comprehensive discussion before a bill is passed.

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