As a Marine, a Marshall University history professor and a parent, I have three concerns about the Campus Self-Defense Act (SB 10): accidents, suicides and our state’s brand.
Consider the difference between an 18-year-old student with a concealed carry permit and an 18-year-old soldier. The soldier’s weapon has a chain of control.
There is a reason why the two institutions for which firearms are primarily developed, the military and law enforcement, are also the only institutions that require inductees to earn their Second Amendment rights.
They go through training cycles, lasting hundreds of hours, before they fire live ammunition. Civilian concealed carriers can bypass all of this, and with just a small amount of training — and none of the institutional safeguards the military and police have perfected over centuries — they can obtain a license to carry a deadly weapon among us.
Five weeks is how long Marine recruits have to wait before their first live fire exercise. Even then, every single bullet is fired within an environment that prioritizes safety. Every movement on the range is under the surveillance of firearms professionals.
Why would it take five weeks of training before firing that first live round? Because it takes that long to indoctrinate people to use weapons in an orderly, and thus, safe and effective, professional manner.
Every aspect of weapons usage, such as storage, cleaning, assembly, range practice, handling, loading and combat, is controlled in the military.
SB 10 has minimal institutional safeguards in place. All that is required is that the adult has a Concealed Handgun License (CHL), which requires a written test, a background check and a short live fire course.
The military and police have infinitely more training than the average concealed carriers, and their training is fine-tuned with constant re-qualifications, feedback from experts, as well as medical, physical and mental tests. This ensures they can be counted on to use these weapons in an adrenaline-filled, chaotic firefight under the orders of superiors.
The only safeguards in SB 10 would not qualify as such in the military or law enforcement. If a student, they would have to have a CHL and would have to store their weapon in a locker.
The military has armories, guards and armorers, which keep these weapons maintained and prevent theft and tampering.
Who is going to force armed students to comply with keeping their weapons maintained, unloaded, on safe and in a locker? What is going to prevent students’ weapons from being used by non-CHL holders — friends of the holder, thieves, etc. — who might handle these weapons?
Accidental discharges happen most often with untrained people, and we’re going to introduce a whole lot of untrained people to these weapons with SB 10, just by allowing students with CHLs to bring the guns to the dorm lockers.
West Virginia has one of the highest suicide rates in the country, and with more guns added to our college campuses, suicides may increase as well.
Suicides can happen for either trained or untrained firearms users because handguns are the preferred weapon for suicides. Ergonomically, there are no other suicide weapons that virtually guarantee instant death.
Lastly, West Virginia’s brand could be further harmed. SB 10 supporters argue it might increase enrollment.
International students as well as students living in most of the U.S. do not feel safer with more guns because it’s not a sacred part of their culture.
Most of the U.S. is urban, where people do not grow up with guns as much as in Appalachia, and most international students come from countries where gun ownership is rare.
Why does this matter for our brand? Supply and demand are why.
First, the state’s population has decreased by about 5% since 1960, while the rest of the country has grown 83%, according to U.S. Census data. Many students from our state have chosen to move elsewhere.
Second, the students from the other 49 states have 49 other options. Why would they choose the state that supports increased student pistol carrying?
Likewise, for international students, parents in China, India, Mexico, Brazil and others that send their kids here have 50 state options. Why would they send their students to West Virginia? What do we have to compete with other states?
The bill’s supporters point out that there are 11 other states allowing concealed carry on campus.
An important difference is that none of them have suffered a hint of population decline in the past six decades. They have positively boomed in most cases.
Our brand has suffered enough, and so have our students. There is simply no evidence-based reason to support this bill.
Editor’s note: Chris White, Ph.D., is a professor of Latin American history at Marshall University. He teaches courses on Latin America, the developing world, firearms and U.S. foreign relations. White is also a former U.S. Marine infantryman.