CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s governor signed a bill Wednesday allowing people with concealed carry permits to take firearms onto public college and university campuses.
“Proud day for me,” Republican Gov. Jim Justice said as he signed the bill, surrounded by more than two dozen state lawmakers, members of the National Rifle Association, and the West Virginia Citizens Defense League.
The law will take effect in July 2024. Similar legislation has passed in 11 other states.
Justice said guns have been present on state campuses even without the new law.
“For crying out loud, the doors are wide open,” he said. “This is just saying the law-abiding people have a right to be able to carry if they choose to do so. We just hope and pray that there’s never a problem. We can’t ensure in any way that there won’t be a problem.”
He wants the law to “send a message to the world, by God , if you want to mess with us, we can mess back.”
The signing comes two weeks after a gunman shot and killed three students and injured five others at Michigan State University.
At a public hearing last month at the West Virginia Capitol, nearly all of the 40 people who spoke opposed the bill.
The presidents of West Virginia’s largest institutions of higher learning urged lawmakers to reconsider as the bill moved through the Legislature. They said decisions about whether or not to allow guns on campus should be left to the institutions, and voiced concerns about students struggling with mental health challenges.
West Virginia University President Gordon Gee said Wednesday that the university will form a campus safety group prior to the law’s effective date.
“Today we must come together to focus clearly on what is most important to all of us — keeping our students, faculty, staff, visitors and community members safe while on our campuses,” Gee said in a statement. “That has always been, and will remain, our utmost priority.”
The bill bans the open carry of a firearm on a college or university campus and allows institutions of higher learning to implement exceptions. It also prohibits people from taking guns into areas with a capacity of more than 1,000 spectators — stadiums for football games, for example — or to on-campus daycare centers.
The bill allows exceptions in rooms where a student or employee disciplinary proceeding is being held. Guns can be restricted in specifically designated areas where patient care or mental health counseling is being provided.
Schools would be permitted to regulate firearms in residence halls, but not in common areas, including lounges, dining areas and study areas. Colleges and universities will be required to provide a secure location for storage of a pistol or revolver in at least one on-campus residence hall or to make safes available in residence rooms, which could come with a fee.
HUNTINGTON — University presidents explained their next steps in navigating the changes to come after West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed Senate Bill 10, the West Virginia Self-Defense Act, on Wednesday.
The bill allows for the concealed carry of firearms in some campus spaces starting in the summer of 2024.
“We have opposed this type of legislation many times in recent years, firmly believing that local control is the best path forward,” said West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee in a statement to the WVU community Wednesday. “We reiterated this to lawmakers on multiple occasions again this year. However, now that this bill has been signed into law, we must come together as a community and work through the implications as it relates to the overall safety of our campuses.”
Marshall President Brad D. Smith expressed similar sentiments in a statement to the Marshall community, describing concerns the administration at Marshall has had and its own efforts to advocate for “local control … throughout this process.” In his statement, Smith also called for unity in moving forward.
Both Marshall and WVU took steps to prepare for the bill’s passage, according to Gee’s and Smith’s statements.
“In terms of the university’s preparation, since January our Division of Operations has led an ad hoc committee to develop recommendations for implementation of the then-possible legislation,” Smith said in his statement. “Working with the Higher Education Policy Commission and other colleges/universities across the state, the group will deliver its final recommendations relating to our overall campus safety prior to the implementation date.”
Similarly, WVU plans to create a Campus Safety Group, which will make recommendations on overall campus safety before the bill is implemented, Gee said.
West Virginia is now one of 12 states to pass campus carry legislation, according to information from Justice’s office. Other states have been sources of knowledge for WVU, Gee said.
“It is important to note that as we have shared our concerns about this legislation, we have also talked with our colleagues across the country where similar acts have passed,” Gee said. “We have researched best practices at other campuses where they have navigated this issue successfully, including those in Texas, Colorado, Kansas and Georgia. The insights we have gleaned will help inform our work in the weeks and months ahead.”
Both Gee and Smith described safety as “our utmost priority.”
Safety is the “paramount concern” at West Virginia State University in Institute as well, President Ericke Cage said in a statement Wednesday.
“The financial burden that this law imposes upon the university for public safety and security operations will be significant,” Cage said. “Over the course of the next year, we will examine the full implications and take the actions necessary to continue to provide a safe learning environment for our students, faculty and staff.”
The West Virginia Self-Defense Act will go into effect July 1, 2024.
HUNTINGTON — After 60 days, a special prosecutor is waiting for more reports from the night a 13-year-old girl was fatally struck by an off-duty Cabell County deputy driving his cruiser.
West Virginia State Police said Wednesday information from the vehicle’s black box was considered “inconclusive” due to the age of the cruiser.
Putnam County Prosecutor Mark Sorsaia said the results did not provide useful information due to the cruiser’s age. The airbag did not deploy during the crash, according to State Police, so the black box did not provide data.
Cabell County Deputy Jeffrey Racer fatally struck Laney Hudson with his police vehicle at about 10:30 p.m. Dec. 30, 2022, on 31st Street (U.S. 60). Racer was placed on administrative leave after the incident and no charges have been filed. Racer has been employed at the Cabell County Sheriff’s Department since 2020.
Sorsaia said the black box would have been able to tell how fast the cruiser was going and when brakes were used.
While the black box results returned as inconclusive, Sorsaia said no conclusions should be made yet. Sorsaia said he is meeting with an expert — one he said is considered the best in West Virginia — this week to work on an accident reconstruction report.
“(The black box result) is a relevant factor, but it doesn’t indicate some final conclusion or result. It is just a a part of it and there’s a lot of other parts,” Sorsaia explained.
“The thing about the black box is someone may misconstrue that. Someone may think ‘Well, they said there is nothing about the black box, so they don’t have anything on him — that means they can’t prove anything wrong.’ Well, that’s the farthest from the truth. That’s just one piece. There are many other pieces we can look at,” Sorsaia said.
Sorsaia is also waiting for an autopsy report.
“When I discuss what our decision is going to be with my partners and the State Police, I’m going to be at the point where we have the whole thing wrapped up and I can answer any questions about any part of it,” Sorsaia said.
Cabell County Prosecutor Corky Hammers on Jan. 6 recused his office from the case due to a potential conflict of interest. Sorsaia was then assigned to the case.
The West Virginia Sheriff’s Association selected the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office to conduct the internal investigation.
West Virginia State Police Trooper Stuart Swope said Sorsaia is the one who will provide any details regarding the investigation.
“(Sorsaia has) been assigned as the prosecutor on that case, so anything that gets released about that black box will have to be done by him,” Swope responded after a request for black box results.
Hudson’s mother Opal Slone, family and friends have protested the teen’s death at the site of the crash, Cabell County Courthouse and in Kanawha County on multiple occasions since Hudson’s death.
The site of the crash can be seen decorated with photos of Hudson, posters, candles, balloons and stuffed animals.
Racer’s involvement in the crash and the lack of communication between the family and the Cabell County Sheriff’s Department have been the topics of the protests.
Slone confronted Cabell County Sheriff Chuck Zerkle on Jan. 3 and asked him why she hasn’t heard from law enforcement about her daughter’s death.
“(Racer)’s being paid for killing my baby,” Slone told Zerkle. “You do realize if he was driving 35 miles an hour she would still be here?”
According to State Police Trooper M.J. Adkins, Racer recorded a 0.00 on a breathalyzer test on site. Adkins also said Racer had a green light as he was driving on 31st Street.
Hudson had at least three people with her on the night she was struck, Adkins previously told The Herald-Dispatch, and another may have left before law enforcement arrived.
Adkins confirmed a woman was with Racer during the wreck. Zerkle told The Herald-Dispatch the deputy was traveling to refuel his police vehicle.