Editorial: Legal gun carriers also deadly

We always assumed, offhand, that people who obtain legal permits to carry hidden pistols are generally law-abiding, not dangerous. However, a new nationwide report indicates otherwise.

The Violence Policy Center says 722 Americans were killed since 2007 by holders of pistol permits. Although no official records exist, and many states hide the names of people with “concealed carry” permits, the center combed thousands of news reports for deaths that weren’t ruled self-defense.

The report, titled “Concealed Carry Killers,” cites 544 shootings in 36 states. It says 177 of the shooters have been convicted, so far, and 22 killed themselves after murdering others. Seventeen victims were police officers. Twenty-eight mass shootings (three or more victims) took 136 lives. Twenty cases were accidental shootings.

The report includes two West Virginia killings by holders of pistol permits:

In 2010, Christopher Wayne Bowling of Raleigh County shot his wife in the face with a .45 pistol in front of their 10-year-old daughter. Bowling claimed it was an accident, but witnesses testified that he had inflicted years of domestic violence on her. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life.

Last month, permit holder John Ferrell of Wayne County shot Cody Austin Perry in the face with a .45 pistol after Perry parked with his girlfriend near Ferrell’s home. Ferrell claims self-defense. Wayne prosecutors say they will let grand jurors decide whether to indict.

Since the report covers only 36 states, and is drawn just from news items, the Violence Policy Center says it presumes there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of other cases it cannot find.

Repeatedly, conservatives in Legislature have attempted to hide the names of West Virginians who obtain pistol permits. Last year, the House passed a concealment bill, but it died in a Senate committee. This year, with Republicans controlling both chambers, chances for passage may be higher. If it happens, West Virginians may have trouble learning how many killers held pistol permits.

Currently, around 125,000 West Virginians — around one-tenth of the adult population — have permits. The number has soared dramatically. For example, in 2009, Kanawha County issued 825 permits, but the number jumped to 4,653 in 2013.

The new Violence Policy Center report indicates that some of these pistol-packers aren’t as harmless as we supposed.

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