For a second straight year, West Virginia lawmakers have taken up a bill to allow people to carry concealed handguns without obtaining permits.
House Judiciary Committee members took up the bill (HB 4145) Wednesday morning, shortly after an early public hearing where proponents called the current $100 fee for five-year conceal-carry permits an unreasonable tax on their right to bear arms, while others said allowing people to carry guns without training or background checks endangers police and public safety.
“What this bill amounts to is elimination of a tax on a fundamental right to self defense,” National Rifle Association lobbyist Dakota Moore told the committee members. “This is about money, quite simply. The sheriffs hate to relinquish the fees they accept in exchange for you to exercise your fundamental right of self-defense.”
Keith Morgan, president of the West Virginia Citizens Defense League, concurred, saying, “This bill is about sheriffs taking our rights from us and selling them back to us.”
Harrison County Sheriff Albert Marano stressed public-safety concerns.
“Sheriffs are not against guns, and we’re not against the Second Amendment,” Marano said, “but sheriffs also support responsible firearms handling, and we support training because we know that’s an important part of carrying a firearm.”
Dee Price Childers, of the state chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, cited national and state polls that she said show overwhelming support for requiring conceal-carry permits. She cited polls conducted last spring showing that nearly 90 percent of Americans and 83 percent of West Virginians favor the existing law.
“Obviously, HB 4145 does not represent the will of most West Virginians,” she said. “West Virginia moms urge our delegates not to put our families in harm’s way by allowing untrained persons to carry concealed loaded weapons in our communities.”
But West Virginia Citizens Defense League member Keith Carte said he can’t afford the $100 fee for a five-year license, and is afraid to walk the streets of downtown Charleston unarmed.
“It seems like every time I’m on the street in Charleston — Capitol Street, Virginia Street — someone approaches me and tries to con me out of money, and it’s usually a large male person,” he told the committee. “All this bill does is level the playing field so people who can’t afford a permit can defend themselves when they’re approached by these persons.”
Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a similar bill last year, by a 32-2 margin in the Senate and 71-29 in the House. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed the bill, citing “overwhelming opposition” from law enforcement officers statewide.
“In light of those concerns, and in the interest of public safety, I believe a veto is appropriate,” Tomblin said in the veto message issued March 20, about a week after the 2015 regular session adjourned.
Legislative leaders are taking the bill up early this session, with the intent of assuring that the Legislature still will be in session to vote to override a potential gubernatorial veto this year.
Judiciary Committee members advanced the legislation to the House floor Wednesday evening on a 17-6 vote, with a bill that closely resembles the final version of the bill that passed the Legislature last session.
That includes limiting conceal-carry without a permit to people age 21 and older who are not otherwise prohibited from possessing firearms. People between 18 and 21 would be able to obtain a provisional conceal-carry license, upon completion of a background check and a gun-safety course.
The bill also retains all existing standards and requirements for obtaining concealed-carry permits.
Last year, law enforcement officials noted that, in the 2013-14 budget year, concealed-carry permits raised $3.07 million, $2 million of which went to county sheriffs’ departments for background checks.
House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, said Wednesday the current bill does not have a fiscal note outlining potential revenue losses to the West Virginia State Police, sheriffs’ departments or to the Courthouse Facilities Improvement Fund, which receives $15 from each $100 permit fee.
Reach Phil Kabler at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304 348-1220 or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.