- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 27, 2019

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The West Virginia House voted late Wednesday night to allow people with concealed weapons permits to carry guns on college campuses.

The GOP-led chamber approved the measure 59-41, capping more than three hours of debate that touched on the right to bear arms, the frontal lobe of the brain and the #MeToo movement.

Del. Jim Butler, the Mason County Republican who sponsored the measure, has said his proposal would make campuses safer. His fellow lawmakers were more specific.

“For the last year the Me Too movement has brought awareness toward women and their ability to protect themselves and to stand up for themselves, and that’s what we’re doing here today,” said Del. Kayla Kessinger, a Fayette County Republican.

The bill carves out exemptions that allow for universities to ban firearms from stadiums with more than 1,000 seats, campus daycare centers and college law enforcement buildings.

WVU leaders oppose the bill and students there have protested the measure. Marshall University also is against it. Professors and school staffers have flooded the Capitol to lobby against the bill, which now heads to the Senate.

“Nobody wants this. Nobody asked for this,” said Tom Sura, a writing professor at WVU.

Del. Dave Pethtel, a Wetzel County Democrat, said he’s never seen the higher education community come out so strongly against a bill.

“Those universities made it clear to me, and the people that contacted me, that they absolutely did not want this bill,” he said.

Lawmakers waged a procedural back-and-forth on the measure Wednesday. First, lawmakers tabled the bill and voted down attempts to bring it back to the floor. The impasse broke later in the day by way of a committee vote held in a cramped hallway packed with reporters, aides and officials, sending the bill to the full House.

At a public hearing earlier this month, Concord University Police Officer David Eldridge said his department would have to hire 13 additional officers and purchase multiple metal detectors if the bill became law. It would cost the department $726,000 in the first year.

Ten other states allow for concealed carrying on college campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The activist group Everytown for Gun Safety issued a statement criticizing lawmakers minutes after the vote.

“Our classrooms should house ideas and build minds, not foster fear,” said Anthony Swofford, a member of the Everytown Veterans Advisory Council and a faculty member at WVU.

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