Republican West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice officially signed a bill into law that allows concealed carry permit holders to carry their firearms on the campuses of state colleges and universities.
“I’m proud to sign the Campus Self-Defense Act, which will strengthen Second Amendment protections in West Virginia. West Virginia now joins 11 other U.S. states, including Texas and Utah, that have had this legislation for years,” Justice said, according to WVNS.
The NRA-backed bill passed the West Virginia House of Delegates last week at a vote of 84-13. The law will take effect on July 1, 2024.
“I’ve always said I will do everything I can to protect West Virginia’s Second Amendment rights, and with this law, West Virginia will continue to be a national leader. I sincerely thank the legislature for passing this bill overwhelmingly and the National Rifle Association for their support,” Justice added.
The bill bans the open carry of a firearm on a college or university campus and allows colleges to implement exceptions. It also prohibits people from taking guns into areas with a capacity of more than 1,000 spectators, such as at football games.
Justice said it was a “proud day” for him as he signed the bill, adding that the law sends “a message to the world, by God, if you want to mess with us, we can mess back.”
“This is just saying the law-abiding people have a right to be able to carry if they choose to do so. We just hope and pray that there’s never a problem. We can’t ensure in any way that there won’t be a problem,” he added.
West Virginia National Rifle Association Director Art Thomm was also present during the signing, and he celebrated the law as one that will further protect Americans from criminals.
“Time and again, America has seen violent criminals target their attacks on campuses and other places where law-abiding people are prohibited from carrying guns for protection,” Thomm said, according to WTAP. “Today, Gov. Jim Justice makes it clear: Criminals, you are not welcome here, and our people are not at your mercy.”
Local lawmakers who voiced support for the bill include Republican Delegate Mike Honaker, a former Virginia State Police officer who responded to the Virginia Tech campus shooting in 2007 that left 32 people dead.
“I know we have to be careful about this issue,” he said last month. “But there’s no way that I, as someone who has lived through this and seen it with my own eyes, could forbid another free, law-abiding American citizen from carrying a firearm and retaining the ability and the capacity to defend yourself or others, God forbid they ever be put in a position to do it,” he said last week as the bill advanced in the legislature.
Votes on the bill last month came just days after a shooting at Michigan State University on Feb. 13, when three students were killed and five others were injured. Critics of the bill cited the shooting in their argument against the legislation, with some college students in West Virginia attending a public hearing to voice their concerns.
“This bill is like throwing kerosene on the wildfire, and it is appalling that we even need to say that while there’s still blood on the ground at Michigan State,” Marshall University student E.T. Bowen said in protest of the bill.
Thomm previously spoke to Fox News Digital about the bill and argued that criminals break laws no matter if there is a gun-free zone or other rules prohibiting firearms.
“Criminals break laws regardless of boundaries or gun-free zones. Law-abiding people don’t. NRA-backed campus carry has been passed in many states, and we look forward to Gov. Justice signing this life-saving legislation into law,” Thomm said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.