Campus Carry Act passes after efforts to amend it fail

CHARLESTON — Despite multiple attempts by delegates, including the Republican judiciary committee chairman — to amend a bill to alleviate concerns of the state’s colleges and universities, the House of Delegates passed a bill Wednesday to allow students to carry concealed handguns on campus.

Even with some Republican house members voting with the Democratic minority, a majority of Republicans and a handful of Democrats shot down 9 out of 10 amendments offered Wednesday night to House Bill 2519, the Campus Self Defense Act. The bill passed 59-41 and now heads to the senate.

Also called Campus Carry, HB 2519 would college students to carry handguns at colleges and universities as long as they have a valid concealed weapon permit. There are exemptions, including organized events, stadiums and arenas with more than 1,000 attendees. Colleges and universities would have to provide storage for weapons in prohibited areas.

At one point there were 14 amendments pending when the house gaveled back in Wednesday night, with 10 of those from House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer. After lawmakers pulled some of the amendments, a total of 10 amendments were voted on.

Shott’s proposed amendments included: eliminating the 1,000-attendee threshold; adding additional prohibited facilities, events, and locations; and limiting the bill to students no younger than 21-years-old. The only amendment of Shott’s to pass, putting in place reporting requirements to the legislature from colleges and universities on the implementation of the Campus Carry Act, passed 51-49.

Citing the school shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech a few years ago, Shott read from a report the school put together after that shooting.

“Guess what was missing out of those 280 recommendations? Nowhere in that report was there a suggestion that they arm their students,” Shott said. “Nowhere in that report was there a suggestion that they arm their faculty…You know what? There have been no incidents at Virginia Tech since 2007 even though everyone knew after that it was a gun-free zone.”

Other failed amendments would have prohibited firearms in college public transportation, allowed colleges and universities to suspend or expel a student who discharges or brandishes a weapon in a prohibited area or event, and added athletic conference events to the list of prohibitions.

The debate Wednesday showed a divide in the Republican caucus among its more pro-gun rights members and those who believe in limitations. Del. Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, led much of the fight against Shott’s amendments and decried the games played since the bill originated

“We don’t dump our constitution in the trash because we’re afraid of losing tuition dollars,” Steele said. “People get to protect themselves. That’s what we’re here to do, empower people to protect themselves. Are we so starved for the truth that we would dine at this feast of lies any further? I won’t take another spoon of it.”

The youngest member of the house — Del. Caleb Hanna, R-Nicholas — is 19-years-old and a college student after graduating from Richwood High School. He said the focus has been on the opinion of college administrators and not the students.

“Everyone wants to talk about the professors but has anyone talked to the students and what they students want,” Hanna asked. “I don’t think you can realize the importance of a piece of legislation like this until you’re hunkered in your dorm room practically defenseless.”

Del. Rodney Pyles, D-Monongalia, represents the district that’s home to West Virginia University. Pyles raised concerns about well-meaning students being careless with handguns in crowded areas.

“I feel that innocent people are going to be hurt,” Pyles said. “I don’t think guns on campus is going to make the campus any safer. There’s a danger of accidental discharge by a gun falling out of a pocket or falling out of a purse or out of a backpack.”

Wednesday was Carryover Day, when house and senate bills need to be passed to the other body. Any house or senate bills that did not make the Wednesday finish line are considered dead. Earlier Wednesday, the House Rules Committee moved the Campus Carry Act to the house inactive calendar, where bills are parked temporarily or placed there to die.

By Wednesday afternoon, the House Rules Committee reversed itself and put HB 2519 back on the house special calendar for passage that evening. A motion was made to limit debate on amendments on HB 2519 to one statement per delegate with a two-minute time limit for each delegate and a maximum time limit of 15 minutes for each amendment.

Debate on amendments lasted for nearly two hours, with discussion on the bill itself taking another two hours.

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