Campus carry weapons law debuts in West Virginia, joins 11 other states

FILE - Woodburn Hall on the West Virginia University campus, is shown April, 24, 2015, in Morgantown, W.Va. Under a state law that debuted Monday, July 1, 2024, people with concealed carry permits can possess firearms on West Virginia public college and university campuses with some exceptions. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson, File)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — People with concealed carry permits can possess firearms on West Virginia public college and university campuses under a state law that debuted Monday.

Institutions of higher learning can implement exceptions to the law, which bans the open carry of a firearm on campus.

Similar legislation has passed in 11 other states.

As the bill moved through the Legislature last year, the presidents of West Virginia’s largest schools told lawmakers that decisions about whether or not to allow guns on campus should be left to the institutions. They also voiced concerns about students struggling with mental health challenges.

When Republican Gov. Jim Justice signed the law in March 2023 he said he wanted the law to “send a message to the world, by God, if you want to mess with us, we can mess back.”

Schools are permitted to regulate firearms in residence halls, but not in common areas, including lounges, dining areas and study areas. The law 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.

Exceptions to the law are allowed in rooms where a student or employee disciplinary proceeding is being held. Also, guns can be restricted in specifically designated areas where patient care or mental health counseling is being provided.

Colleges and universities must 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.

West Virginia University formed a campus safety group to address the law. Gun lockers are available to students living in residence halls for $140 per semester, said Dean of Students Corey Farris. He said the university has received five requests for gun lockers across its campuses, including four in Morgantown. The university has estimated it will cost $1 million to implement the law.