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House passes bill allowing West Virginia teachers to concealed carry in schools

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the Statehouse Spotlight newsletter published by Mountain State Spotlight. Get coverage of the legislative session delivered to your email inbox Monday – Thursday; sign up for the free newsletter at mountainstatespotlight.org/newsletter.

West Virginia K-12 teachers could soon be packing heat under a bill that would allow them to concealed carry firearms and stun guns inside schools.

HB 4299 would require school districts to allow teachers to carry concealed weapons if they obtain a permit and complete a course developed by the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security. Lawmakers amended an earlier version of the bill that allowed local school boards to decide whether or not to allow teachers carry. 

As lawmakers debated the bill, Republicans said teachers carrying a gun in the classroom would deter school shooters, while Democrats voiced concerns about the implementation, pointing out that the House already passed a bill this year allowing for more armed security in schools. The bill passed the House on a party-line vote, 89-11. 

Del. Doug Smith, R-Mercer, the bill’s lead sponsor who has introduced similar legislation for the last three years, said while a mass school shooting hasn’t happened in West Virginia schools, it’s only a matter of time.

“If, I heard that word mentioned a bunch, if it happens,” Smith said. “No it ain’t if, it’s when. We need to prepare for that, because it will happen, someday.”

However, Minority Leader Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, said guns in school won’t do much for security unless mental health is addressed and the Legislature stops running culturally divisive bills, which he characterized as “hate.” 

“Until we, as a body, stop doing those things, these things will continue, no matter how many guns you have in schools,” Hornbuckle said. “That is what is keeping this going. We as people, we as Americans, we need to do better.” 

More than two dozen states allow someone other than a guard or school resource officer to carry a firearm on school grounds under certain conditions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In 2013, South Dakota became the first state to allow teachers and other school support staff to carry in the wake of the Sandy Hook mass shooting the year prior. 

However, there’s been no research showing arming teachers has either made schools safer or more dangerous, according to the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit that has studied economic, defensive and other societal issues since the late 1940s. 

Meanwhile, shootings at schools continue to increase. In 2023, there were 346 shooting incidents at schools across the country, which broke the previous year’s record of 308, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database by data scientist David Riedman. 

That tally includes active shooter situations as well as domestic incidents, suicides, gang-related shootings or even acts of vandalism that involve firearms and school property. 

Nationally, teachers have opposed legislation to let them carry. One survey showed 54% of teachers asked if guns would make a school safer said they didn’t feel they would. 

The bill now goes to the state Senate.

Reach reporter Henry Culyhouse at henry@mountainstatespotlight.org.

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