A major change could soon be coming to college campuses in West Virginia.
The state's House of Delegates is currently considering House Bill 2498, which as it currently stands would force collegiate campuses to allow students to carry concealed firearms if they have a permit. Though the bill has met some opposition, it has made it through the House Education Committee.
Though it contains certain exceptions for large venues that fit a certain profile (such as WVU's Mountaineer Field and Coliseum, Marshall's Joan C. Edwards Stadium, etc.), if the bill passes it would eliminate the ability of colleges and universities to decide whether or not students can carry guns on most parts of campus.
Proponents of the bill contend that it would level the playing field, allowing college students to feel safer and possibly even negating threats from potential campus assailants. And even for those opposed, there is no denying that school shootings pose a significant threat; in fact, since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 there have been nearly 300 instances in America where a gun has gone off at a school (either pre-collegiate or collegiate).
But although I believe that those who crafted the bill did so with noble intentions, I have little doubt that if it passes college students will be in more, not less, danger.
There is recent empirical evidence to suggest that there would be some students that would indeed carry weapons on campus were it permitted. It's understandable that a student might feel more safe with a powerful weapon to protect them.
But in West Virginia, campus shootings have been a virtual non-issue to date despite (or perhaps because) schools have disallowed students from carrying weapons on campus. In fact, only one of those 300 school shootings since 2012 mentioned above occurred in West Virginia, and it was an accidental discharge at the University of Charleston's pool. Perhaps it is for that reason that all of the state's colleges and universities appear to have come out against the bill.
However, even if one were to disregard the state's strong record of campus safety against firearms in recent years and argue that such a tragedy could happen any time – an understandable line of concern considering how often such calamities have occurred nationwide – concealed carry on campus is not the answer.
Consider, for example, the ease of getting a concealed carry permit. More than half of American states (including West Virginia) allow for gun reciprocity, and concealed carry permits are easier to obtain in some states than others.
It's also worth noting that for individuals 21 and older, concealed carry is allowed in West Virginia without a permit.
That raises a few issues, including the possibility of incidents involving accidental discharge of a weapon like the situation that happened at the University of Charleston.
There is also the added danger of concealment, in that it becomes harder to identify who has a weapon and thus who might be threatening. If concealed carry is permitted on campus, law enforcement officers would likely have a very difficult time identifying said threats, seeing as they would no longer be looking for concealed weapons.
And as for the main point of safety proposed by the bill's supporters, the truth is that if a shooting occurs, a citizen with a gun probably won't be able to stop it. Though it is nice to believe that a citizen can play the hero, even trained law enforcement officers are sometimes unable to prevent fatalities in these situations. Indeed, law enforcement often prepares for these situations in part by training to avoid causing accidental student casualties. A student trying to save others with a gun, especially one old enough to concealed carry in West Virginia without having to earn a permit, would conversely put their peers at risk.
There are of course other safety situations, such as when individuals walk home alone at night, in which it might be useful for students to carry a concealed firearm. But I believe that the risks posed by the other aforementioned situations outweigh the potential benefits.
I respect the intentions of House Bill 2498. But if it passes, collegiate students in West Virginia will be in more danger, not less.