Campus carry: who and why?

HB 2519, the ‘Campus Carry’ bill, was introduced in the WV House of Delegates on January 18, 2019. Its lead sponsor was Delegate Jim Butler, a Republican representing the 14th district in Mason County. The ostensible purpose of the bill, as indicated by its title and by comments in the press, is to increase the safety of law-abiding students on campus.

This bill raises several questions, including whether firearms actually do increase the safety of students, who would pay for the massive security costs associated with the bill, and how the bill would impact racial minorities and other groups who may already feel insecure on campus. You can find discussion of some of these issues on our research page (REF). The questions addressed here are different: who introduced this bill, who wrote it, and does its stated purpose of protecting students actually match the intentions of the legislators who sponsored it?

Jim Butler, the lead sponsor of this bill, has otherwise never expressed any concern for student safety or any other aspect of the personal or financial well-being of West Virginia’s colleges or college students. We are not aware of any institutes of higher education in Delegate Butler’s district, and none are listed on the Wikipedia page for Mason County. His full record of legislative sponsorship involves only one other bill tied to higher education, which would have limited the Underwood-Smith Teacher Loan Assistance Program to STEM fields. During his time in the WV legislature, that body has continuously cut public funding for higher education, and again, Butler has never expressed any concern whatsoever about this trend. All evidence points to his stated concern for the wellbeing of colleges and college students being disingenuous.

So what is the purpose of HB 2519? It is the latest in a series of ‘Campus Carry’ bills based on model legislation written by the National Rifle Association and officially adopted by the American Legislative Exchange Council in 2008. It is not currently possible to track the NRA’s independent expenditures in West Virginia, but it has repeatedly endorsed and given its highest ‘grades’ to Butler. Likewise, ALEC does not make its membership public, but at least one co-sponsor of this bill, Eric Householder, is reported to be the state chairman of ALEC.

We reject the premise that this bill was primarily introduced due to legislators’ concerns about student safety and wellbeing. The evidence suggests that those are not major issues for the delegates involved, but maintaining the support of the lobbying and advocacy groups that created this legislation is a major issue.