Caputo lone voice in opposition to ‘Campus Defense Act’

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Senate Judiciary Committee, on Wednesday, advanced their Committee Substitute for SB 10 – The Campus Defense Act – by a near-unanimous vote. 

As explained to the committee by Senate Counsel Tom Smith, “The general purpose of this bill is to allow persons who are holders of concealed handgun permits to carry concealed on the campuses of the state’s institutions of higher education.”

Smith further explained that, if enacted, the bill would supersede any such institution’s authority over carrying concealed weapons on campus. Both provisional (issued to those age 18 to 21) and traditional (issued to those over the age of 21) concealed carry licenses issued by West Virginia, as well as licenses issued by other states currently engaged in reciprocity agreements with West Virginia would be recognized. 

According to Smith, institutions would retain the ability to restrict the carrying of concealed weapons in certain areas and under certain circumstances. Examples include:

  • Organized events of more than 1,000 people occurring in an arena or stadium.
  • Day care facilities located on school property.
  • Any secure area utilized by law enforcement.
  • Any area on school property, as determined by school administrators, already having adequate security measures in place. 

SB 10 defines “adequate security measures” as: “Meaning the use of electronic equipment and armed personnel at public entrances to detect and restrict the carrying of pistols and revolvers into that area; including – but not limited to – metal detectors, metal detector wands, or any other device used for similar purposes.”

Administrators may also restrict the carrying of concealed weapons in dorm rooms, any room where disciplinary action is taking place, or within private offices. However, administrators may not restrict a faculty member in possession of a valid permit from concealed carrying in their own private office or work space. The bill would also require institutions to provide secure weapon-storage areas – such as lockers or safes – within residence halls; further allowing for a “reasonable fee” to be charged for use of the secure storage area. The institution would retain disciplinary authority over anyone violating concealed carry policies.

The effective date of the bill after passage would be July 1, 2024. 

At the request of Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, Rob Alsop, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives at West Virginia University (WVU), came before the committee to provide clarity as to how administrators will enforce their concealed carry restrictions.

Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion.

“Currently for our arenas, we have a certain level of protection,” Alsop said. “We have folks who check bags and do those types of things as they walk into the arena. We also have a University Police Department full of terrific officers who do a great job of keeping our campus safe.”

“Those policies would continue as we move forward,” Alsop added, “but we would not hire a security officer for every building or a wand for every building on campus – it just would not be feasible.”

According to Alsop, additional “manpower” will most likely become necessary, resulting in “some additional cost.” Alsop referenced a $350,000 appropriations request from 2018 as being “in the ballpark” of that additional cost. 

Sen. Mike Stuart, R-Kanawha, then spoke briefly in support of SB 10, saying, “I don’t view this as making anyone less safe. I think it’s a good bill, and I’m on the record supporting it.”

Sen. Mike Stuart, R-Kanawha.

Caputo disagreed with Stuart, saying, “I want to be on the record opposing this piece of legislation. I just think it’s insane to put this into code that it’s okay to carry guns on college campuses.”

With the motion adopted, the Committee Substitute for SB 10 will move on to the full Senate with the committee’s recommendation for passage. 

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