For the second year in a row, lawmakers in the West Virginia House of Delegates have approved a bill to allow adults to carry concealed handguns without obtaining a permit.
The bill (HB 4145) passed the House on an 68-31 vote on Monday, over the objections of opponents who said the vast majority of West Virginians support existing law — which requires gun safety training and a background check for a concealed weapons permit.
“Many people, including NRA members, law enforcement officers and the general public I was elected to represent, have told me this bill goes too far,” said Delegate Dave Pethtel, D-Wetzel. “Everyone should have training and undergo a background check.”
However, Delegate Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, contended that the Founding Fathers believed that every person not only has the right, but a duty, to bear arms.
“None of the states with permit-less concealed-carry laws has descended into chaos,” Householder said.
If the bill becomes law, West Virginia would become the seventh state — after Alaska, Arizona, Kansas, Maine, Vermont and Wyoming — not to require concealed-carry permits.
The bill now goes to the Senate, which approved a similar bill last year by a 30-4 vote. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed the bill last year, saying law enforcement officers around the state were overwhelmingly opposed to it.
Tomblin seemed to promise another veto on Monday. He said on Twitter during the House debate, “I will veto any concealed carry bill that does not take into consideration the concerns of law enforcement for the safety of our officers.”
During Monday's debate, several delegates talked about how the bill will allow armed citizens to better protect themselves, a point countered by Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha.
“If that's truly what we believe, why do we have metal detectors in this building?” he said, referring to new security entrances to the Capitol. “Metal detectors in this building are gun control.”
Before voting to pass the bill, delegates adopted an amendment from the House Judiciary Committee, which Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, called “enhancements for those who had concerns” with the original version of the bill.
The changes included several incentives to encourage people to still obtain concealed-carry licenses if the bill passes, including providing a $100 tax credit to offset the $100 fee for the five-year permits. It also would enhance the gun safety training required for a concealed-carry permit by requiring live firing of weapons as part of the training.
But Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, raised concerns about a change that increased penalties for the use of a gun in the commission of a felony.
While the amendment would add five to 10 years to prison terms for the use of a firearm during a felony, Manchin noted that it provides an exception for those who “in good faith employs the use of a firearm, in self-defense or the defense of others, against another person who is perpetuating violence or the threat of violence.”
Manchin called it a “substantial change” expanding the definition of self-defense, saying it would permit the use of deadly force simply if people thought they were under the threat of violence.
Another key debate Monday was over an amendment to restrict unlicensed concealed-carry to state residents.
Proponents said allowing nonresidents to carry guns without permits would take away a tool from police, who can now arrest and detain out-of-state drug dealers for illegally carrying concealed weapons.
“Are we here to protect the constitutional rights of West Virginians or are we here to protect the constitutional rights of drug dealers from Detroit, Pittsburgh, Mexico, or wherever they come from?” asked Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha.
However, supporters of unlicensed concealed-carry raised concerns that a resident-only provision would subject the new law to court challenges on constitutional grounds.
“The effect of this amendment is to be a poison pill to this bill, and subject it to a constitutional challenge,” said Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha.
The amendment was rejected on a 73-26 vote.
Also rejected were amendments to:
n Make it a felony to cause harm while discharging a firearm, if the individual had failed to complete a firearms safety course, rejected 96-4.
“The question is, do we want to require training for people to conceal carry without a permit?” asked Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, before his amendment was rejected.
Skinner said that during the more than three hours of debate on the bill, 11 Americans had been killed in firearms incidents.
He also said a West Virginian is killed with a gun once every 31 hours.
n Toughen penalties for violating the concealed-carry law, raising those charges from misdemeanors to felonies, rejected 90-9.
n Require people who carry concealed weapons to have casualty insurance, similar to requiring insurance to operate an automobile, rejected 97-2.
“We have no training in this bill. No background checks. No protections at all,” Delegate Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha, said in support of the amendment. “It makes sense to require, if you're going to conceal carry, that you have insurance.”
Arguing against the amendments, Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, said, “The state isn't going to tell me anything I can or cannot do with my personal property, and my self-defense of my family and friends.”
The passage vote was not influenced by a poll released Friday showing that 84 percent of likely state voters and 87 percent of gun owners support or strongly support the existing law requiring a state permit and gun safety training to carry concealed firearms.
Conducted by SurveyUSA from Jan. 29-31, the survey of 1,000 adult residents included 821 who said they are likely to vote in the 2016 elections. The survey was commissioned by Everytown for Gun Safety and the West Virginia chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
Lane did not dispute the poll results, but said, “The whole point of the Bill of Rights is to protect the minority from the majority.”
Fourteen Democrats — Delegates Boggs, Eldridge, Fluharty, Hartman, Hicks, Marcum, Moye, Perry, Rupie Phillips, Rodighiero, Shaffer, Peggy Smith, Sponaugle and Phyllis White, joined 54 Republicans in voting for the bill.
Eleven Republicans — Delegates Ambler, Anderson, Atkinson, Cooper, Cowles, David Evans, Hamilton, Ireland, McCuskey, Eric Nelson and Westfall — joined 20 Democrats opposing the bill. Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell, was absent.
Reach Phil Kabler at email@example.com, 304 348-1220 or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.