Chris Schulz Published

Campus Carry Goes Into Effect Across State

A man wearing a light blue shirt with a patterned dark blue tie over grey slacks stands to the right of a bank of small lockers embedded into a wall. He holds out his right hand to one of the nearest lockers while facing the camera.
Corey Farris, dean of students at West Virginia University, stands next to the new gun lockers in the Brooke Tower residence hall on the university's Morgantown campus.
Chris Schulz/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A law allowing concealed carry permit holders to carry a firearm onto the campus of any of the state’s higher education institutions goes into effect July 1. 

On a morning in late June, Brian Selmeski demonstrated the utility of one of Fairmont State University’s new gun locker rooms on the ground floor of a residence hall. The lockers were set into the wall, just big enough to hold a holstered firearm along with a small amount of ammunition.

“For this side of campus, we’ve installed 24 safes,” Selmeski said. “In the other residence hall, we have 48 gun safes. They are both in rooms that are cinder block construction, they will have electronic access, which will be set by the University Police Department. They have cameras internally so we ensure that we have eyes on these firearms at all times.”

A man in a polo shirt with tight red and white stripes looks to a card swipe to the right of frame as he opens a metal door set into a brick wall. On the door are stickers that read "Safe Weapon Storage Available" and "All Weapons Prohibited"
Fairmont State University Director of Housing and Residence Life Jeremiah Kibler opens the door to one of the two residence halls on campus equipped with gun lockers.

Photo by Chris Schulz/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Selmeski is the chief of staff at Fairmont State University, where the infrastructure is largely in place for the implementation of Senate Bill 10, commonly known as Campus Carry. The law requires all colleges and universities to allow concealed carry permit holders to have weapons on campus with certain limitations, such as large campus events and residence halls. Hence the lockers.

Selmeski said the university is looking at Campus Carry as an opportunity.

Stickers on a slightly ajar metal door read "Safe Weapon Storage Available" below a simple black vector image of a lock over the outline of a handgun and "All Weapons Prohibited" below an outline of a handgun inside of a red circle with a line through it.
A closeup of some of the stickers used on Fairmont State University’s campus to designate firearm storage and prohibited areas for Campus Carry.

Photo by Chris Schulz/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

“We have constituencies that have strong opinions, some pro, some con,” he said. “How do we ensure we are ideologically neutral and use this as an opportunity to model the sort of civil discourse that universities are here to help foster and that our country really desperately needs right now?”

After many attempts spanning more than five years, Campus Carry passed the West Virginia Legislature during the regular session in 2023.

Previously, each university decided for themselves whether to allow firearms on campus, with most opting against. West Virginia University President Gordon Gee and Marshall University President Brad Smith published a joint statement during the session in opposition to the law, as did some of the state’s smaller universities.

“We don’t have the luxury of taking an opinion or taking a position on this law,” Selmeski said. “We need especially to model that civil discourse that I keep coming back to, make students who choose to exercise this right feel comfortable. We also need to be cognizant of the fact that it makes some of their student peers uncomfortable. So the last thing we want to do is comply with the letter of the law in a way that creates tensions between students. That’s how we’re approaching the lockers.”

SB 10 included no state funding for its implementation, and at the onset there were concerns about the ultimate cost. Fairmont State estimates they spent just over $13,000 on signage and gun lockers, but that does not include other line items including new cameras and card readers. Marshall University appropriated around $300,000 to prepare for Campus Carry.

Officials at WVU estimate they have spent around $1 million across their three primary campuses to comply with the law.

Gov. Jim Justice signed SB 10 in March of 2023, and schools had the ensuing 16 months to prepare. They’ve used all the time given to them, forming committees and holding campus conversations. WVU’s Board of Governors approved their campus carry rule in April. Fairmont State’s governors approved theirs less than three weeks ago, in June. 

Corey Farris is the dean of students at West Virginia University, where students will be able to access gun lockers at residence halls at a cost of $140 per semester.

“I’d say we’re pretty much ready,” Farris said. “I mean, we still have probably a few stickers to put up on some of the offices and then just this last minute communication, just reminding people that July 1 the law takes effect.”

WVU allows single-occupancy offices to be exempt from campus carry. Speaking in front of a gun locker room in a residence hall on WVU’s Morgantown campus, Farris said just over 320 staff members have requested their offices be exempt. 

That is significantly higher than the number of students that have requested access to the new lockers so far, of which there are 120 on the Morgantown campus alone.

“We’ve had four students who are living in the residence halls who’ve made that request,” Farris said. “Potomac State zero students have made that request WVU Tech, one student has made that request for a locker.

A door to an office is shown at an angle. At the left side of frame words painted on the beige wall in dark red read "Office of Student Health" The door, made of frosted glass and metal, on the right side of frame has the logo of Fairmont State University, a falcon, painted on it, as well as the words "Clinic Hours" in red and the schedule "Monday through Friday 8 a.m. - 4 p.m." in white below. Next to the falcon's head is a "Weapons Prohibited" sticker displaying a handgun under a red circle with a line through it.
Most universities exempt on-campus health and mental health clinics from the Campus Carry requirements.

Photo by Chris Schulz/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

West Virginia is now the twelfth state to allow campus carry, and officials at all of the schools that WVPB contacted for this story said they had spoken with their counterparts in states like Georgia, Texas and Tennessee that have already implemented their own versions of campus carry. Farris said colleagues at other state schools have told him implementation is the hardest period.

“We weren’t doing a one-time build,” he said. “We’re building this out for many years. We just want to be ready and not underprepared. It’s better to be over prepared.”

Schools across the state will be reassessing their approaches to storage, restrictions and many of the other smaller details of campus carry for years to come.

“Until we get it up and running and tweaking it, no plan survives first contact. So we’ll see how it works out,” said James Terry, director of Public Safety for Marshall University. He said their emphasis will be on personal responsibility.

“We put the responsibility on the permit holder,” Terry said. “If they’re gonna live in the residence hall, they have to lease a gun safe from a vendor, which we already have. We did not build a safe room or gun room.”  

Terry said education is just as much for concealed carry permit holders on campus, as well as for the rest of the population.

“The big cultural shift for us will be, in my opinion, just educating the public on what concealed carry is,” Terry said. “You read the law, it has to be concealed at all times. But if it prints on the shirt, it’s still concealed if it’s underneath that shirt, you know, so we’re, we’re talking about our responses to that.”

That is one of the intangibles that schools will have to address moving forward, especially the perceptions around having firearms on campus and in classrooms. Selmeski said the gap between being safe and feeling safe on campus can create tension.

“Statistically, campus carry does not increase the risk of gun violence on campus,” he said. “That does absolutely nothing to make people feel safe. It’s a number, it’s not their lived reality. So how do we address the lived reality? We, we have open fora, we have robust communication, we make the complex more simple so folks can understand it.”

Whether the school communities are ready or not, the schools themselves have the necessary infrastructure in place.