Legislators in West Virginia have spoken and gun owners in the “Wild and Wonderful” state will no longer need to get a permit to have a concealed weapon, putting it with eight other states that afford citizens the widest latitude in regards to gun rights. The House voted on the measure Friday, officially overriding the Governor’s veto on Saturday.
The law, supported by the National Rifle Association, does away with permit and training programs for people 21 and older who want to carry a concealed weapon. The measure was opposed by law enforcement agencies across the state.
“West Virginia’s law enforcement officers have dedicated their lives to keeping us safe and helping us in times of need, and it’s disheartening that the members of the Legislature have chosen not to stand with these brave men and women – putting their safety and the safety of West Virginians at risk,” Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said in a statement released Saturday.
He said that by allowing such a broad law, anyone might have a concealed weapon making it more difficult for law enforcement officers to know if someone might be armed. He further said that by eliminating the former training requirement there will no longer be any reliable way to know how much training or expertise a gun carrier has with the weapon. The permitting process supplanted by the current legislation included a background check and a gun safety class.
But gun-rights advocates were quick to applaud the legislature’s move, which can be seen as part of a broader trend across the country towards allowing concealed carry.
“Self-defense is a fundamental right that must be respected,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. “Law-abiding West Virginians are now free to choose the method of self-defense that best suits their needs. The NRA and our five million members are pleased that the legislature voted in support of West Virginians’ Second Amendment freedoms.”
A 2013 study conducted by the Center for American Progress found “a significant correlation between the strength of a state’s gun laws and gun violence in the state.” The study suggests that in the 10 states with the widest latitude in open carry – characterized by the Center as “weak gun laws” - the level of gun violence that was more than twice as high as the 10 states where it considered gun laws were “strong.”
Currently, West Virginia’s rate for gun deaths is 12th highest in the nation.
This study was refuted by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey who said the new law would not put law enforcement at risk or increase gun deaths.
“As the chief legal officer of the state and the person in charge of criminal matters for the state at the WV Supreme Court and in federal courts, I know that this legislation will not impact public safety,” he said after the veto. “If this bill is enacted, we will not only expand freedom, but we will keep our citizens protected.”
Governor Tomblin vetoed a similar bill last year, but the legislature didn’t have time to vote on overriding it before the session ended.
West Virginia’s actions comes as gun rights are being expanded throughout the US. Many feel a well-armed populace is the best defense against both tyranny and terrorism.
“If someone who means me harm thinks I have the means to defend myself on the spot, without waiting for police who may arrive too late, they are far more likely to avoid attacking me or my loved ones than if they know I don’t have the means to defend myself,” said Bernard O’Neil, a West Virginian advocate for an armed citizenry.
“States where the government has taken away guns from the public are often the places where criminal elements are the strongest,” he added.
When the law takes effect May 26, West Virginia will become one of eight states that allow concealed carry without a permit. Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Maine, Vermont, and Wyoming are the other constitutional carry states. In should be noted that in Wyoming, the law applies to residents only.