State Senators representing WVU, Fairmont State split on Campus Self-Defense Act
Jan. 28—CHARLESTON — The state senators representing the district that includes two of the state's universities are split on the idea of concealed carry on campuses.
Senate District 13, which contains both Fairmont State University and West Virginia University, is represented by Mike Caputo, D-13, and Mike Oliverio, R-13. The two have differing views on the bill that would allows individuals with concealed carry permits to carry on college campuses.
Caputo was one of four senators who voted against Senate Bill 10, also known as the Campus Self-Defense Act.
Also voting no were the two senate Democrats who represent District 5, Sens. Robert Plymale, D-5, and Mike Woelfel, D-5. District 5 contains the campus of Marshall University. The only Republican to vote no on the bill was Sen. Mike Maroney, R-2, who represents the more rural halves of Marion and Monongalia counties.
Senators Plymale, Maroney and Woelfel did not respond to requests for comment before deadline.
Caputo said the complaints from his constituents and the leadership of several universities were enough to convince him this isn't an idea that is popular on campuses.
The presidents of five universities around the state penned letters to the legislature. Some are vehemently opposed to the bill and others ask for more safeguards within the bill.
WVU's Student Government Association also stands opposed to the bill.
"I voted against it for what I believe are obvious reasons," Caputo said. "I'm not an anti-gun guy. I have a concealed carry permit, but if our students, our administrators and our law enforcement folks are against this bill, who wants this bill?"
Caputo's two major qualms with the legislation are matters of local control and safety concerns. He believes that a college's board of governors would know best when it comes to allowing concealed firearms on a campus.
He's also concerned with the safety of students and faculty. In his words, "college kids are college kids and things can happen."
However, there are a total of 12 exceptions outlined in the bill where firearms will still be prohibited. Among them are organized events at a stadium or arena with a capacity of more than 1,000 spectators, a campus daycare, a K-12 school-sponsored function occurring on campus, patient-care areas and residence halls, except in common areas.
In addition, inside residence halls, the institutions will be required to provide secure storage for the firearms.
Late last week, WVU President Gordon Gee and Marshall President Brad Smith released a joint statement expressing caution with the new legislation. The two presidents did not outright oppose the bill, but outlined exceptions and safeguards that would make the concept safer.
All the exceptions requested in their letter are already in the bill.
"We note that these best practices and safeguards are contained in Senate Bill 10, and we thank the bill sponsors for including these provisions and the Legislature for considering them," states the letter read. "While we support local control, we will continue to work with our legislators to create environments that are safe for our campus communities."
When the bill passed the Senate on Tuesday and moved to the House Judiciary Committee, the presidents released a second statement urging the house to "keep the provisions intact."
However, not all of West Virginia's universities were as on-board with the bill as WVU and Marshall.
The presidents of West Virginia State University, Concord University and Shepherd University released a joint statement condemning the bill. Their major concerns surround student suicide rates and the cost of implementation.
According to the letter, the universities estimate it could cost universities $11.6 million in the first year to implement the safeguards and security protocols required to allow campus carry.
"At our institutions, the safety and security of our students, faculty and staff is of paramount concern," the three presidents wrote. "If enacted, this legislation would require our universities to make significant new investments in our public safety and security operations."
At the time of publication, Fairmont State University has not released a public statement about the Campus Self-Defense Act.
While the funding of some of these programs is a preliminary concern, Sen. Oliverio thinks that will be alleviated if the bill passes.
Oliverio shared the sentiment as some of the bill's key sponsors — the guns are already on campuses, and this bill creates a framework to make sure they're accounted for and secure.
"This topic is a real balancing act to figure out how best to handle it," Oliverio said. "It's a difficult concept, but some universities were very involved with the process that created this bill."
With the bill passing the Senate 29-4 on Tuesday, it has now been sent to the House Judiciary Committee.
Marion County Del. Joey Garcia, D-76, is the minority chair of the judiciary committee and he's already aware of requests to have the bill placed on an agenda, moving it closer to a vote in the House and ultimately passing.
While Garcia expressed his personal reservations about the bill, he believes it has the support in the House to become law.
"As far as whether there's a will to move the bill forward, I'd say yes the majority likely will," Garcia said.
The bill has not been officially placed on an agenda for the judiciary committee. However an agenda for the committee's next meeting scheduled for Monday, Jan. 30 had not been released at the time of publication.
Reach David Kirk at 304-367-2522 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.