CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – The presidents of Marshall University and West Virginia University are speaking out about the Campus Self-Defense Act signed into law by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice this morning.

Following the signing ceremony this morning, Marshall University President Brad D. Smith, West Virginia University President Gordon Gee and West Virginia State University President Ericke Cage have all released statements on how their institutions will be moving forward.

Since the bill was introduced, university presidents across the state have been lobbying against it, with Smith and Gee releasing a joint letter in January regarding their opposition to it. They now say they have been preparing for what steps to take if the bill was signed, and will continue to prepare for when it takes effect on July 1, 2024.

At Marshall, Smith says the Divisions of Operation began leading an ad hoc committee in January to develop recommendations to implement the law. He also says the university is working with the Higher Education Policy Commission and colleges and universities across the state to finalize those recommendations.

“Campus safety has been, and will continue to be, our top priority for the Marshall community. I’m sure that many of you have questions about how this new law will be implemented and probably have concerns and perhaps even apprehension,” Smith said. “As we move forward, we will continue our prioritized focus on safety for all of us – students, faculty, staff, visitors and community members. That has always been and will remain our utmost priority.”

At WVSU, Cage says the university will be examining the full implications of the law throughout the next year to make sure the campus remains a safe learning environment. He says they will also be looking into how the law will impact the financing public safety and security operations.

“At West Virginia State University, our paramount concern is, and always will be, the safety and security of our campus,” Cage said. “The financial burden that this law imposes upon the university for public safety and security operations will be significant. Over the course of the next year, we will examine the full implications and take the actions necessary to continue to provide a safe learning environment for our students, faculty and staff.”

Gee says WVU will also create a Campus Safety Group to make recommendations for campus safety prior to the law taking effect. He says the university has already been in talks with higher education institutions across the country where similar laws have passed.

“First, let me be clear. Safety has always been a top priority for our campuses, and going forward, it will remain a priority for our campuses,” Gee said. “We have opposed this type of legislation many times in recent years, firmly believing that local control is the best path forward. We reiterated this to lawmakers on multiple occasions again this year. However, now that this bill has been signed into law, we must come together as a community and work through the implications as it relates to the overall safety of our campuses.

The signing of the bill makes West Virginia the 12th state to allow law-abiding permit holders to carry a weapon on the campuses of institutions of higher education in the state. According to the West Virginia Legislature, the Campus Self-Defense Act will take away the authority of the Higher Education Policy Commission, the Council for Community and Technical College Education, and the institutional boards of governors to regulate or restrict the carrying of firearms on higher-education campuses.