Legislature overrides Tomblin, allows permitless hidden guns

It will soon be legal for adults in West Virginia to carry hidden handguns with no training and without a permit, after the Legislature acted swiftly, and against the wishes of law enforcement, to override Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s veto of the legislation.

Tomblin held a rare veto-signing ceremony Thursday, surrounded by dozens of police officers, to try to convince legislators to let the veto stand.

“I urge you to look around this room for a moment and see that law enforcement are concerned about this bill,” Tomblin said Thursday.

They didn’t listen.

The House voted 64-33 to override the veto on Friday.

And on Saturday, the Senate voted 23-11 to override.

The vote to override was bipartisan in both houses.

“While we completely respect the law enforcement community, we also will always come down on the side of the Constitution and ensuring that our rights are protected,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said Friday. “They want the permit process and the training associated with that, which I completely respect and admire their position, but the constitutional authority to carry a weapon is inherent in our Second Amendment.”

Carmichael acknowledged that he knew of no court that had ever ruled the concealed weapons permit process to be unconstitutional. He also said he did not think the current permitting process was unconstitutional.

Tomblin issued a statement immediately after the override, condemning the Legislature’s actions.

“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,” Tomblin said. “It’s unfortunate that the concerns of officers from every law enforcement branch in the state, including the West Virginia State Police and university campus police officers, have been ignored by today’s action.”

Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, noted that public opinion polling was overwhelmingly against allowing permitless concealed weapons.

“This bill is not just a slap in the face to the governor, which often times many of us are happy to do,” Palumbo said, “it’s a slap in the State Police’s face, sheriffs, municipal police officers and the vast majority of our constituents.”

Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said allowing permitless concealed guns would act as a deterrent to crime.

“We’re giving the people the ability to protect themselves without paying a fee,” Blair said. “I can hear freedom knocking on the doors in West Virginia and that’s exactly what this does.”

Two Republicans, Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam, and Sen. Bob Ashley, R-Roane, voted with eight Democrats to oppose the bill.

Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, had voted for the bill last month, when it was initially passed, but changed his vote and voted against the override, explaining that he was swayed by law enforcement.

“My police chief called me yesterday, my sheriff called me yesterday,” Woelfel said. “I was wrong.”

The bill (HB 4145) allows anyone over the age 21 to carry a concealed handgun without a permit.

Those between the ages of 18 and 21 could carry a concealed gun but still must obtain a permit. Some adults may continue to get permits, to allow them to carry concealed guns in states with which West Virginia has concealed carry reciprocity agreements.

The bill provides a $50 tax credit for anyone who chooses to get the training necessary for a permit.

Tomblin criticized the tax credit in his veto message, calling it “ill advised” at a time when the state is facing a budget crisis.

The bill also increases criminal penalties for using a weapon while committing a crime and for felons who illegally carry a gun.

Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, released a statement praising the increased penalties and the tax credit.

“This bill allows West Virginians to protect themselves without the government’s permission,” Cole said. “I am proud of this version, and I am pleased that today we were able to stand up for the constitutional rights our citizens hold so dear.”

The changes will go into effect in late May, 90 days after the law is made official. West Virginia becomes the seventh state to not require a concealed weapons permit.

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5119 or follow @davidlgutman on Twitter.

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