West Virginians Should Reject NRA, Keep Permits For Concealed Carry

| by Nik Bonopartis
A man carrying a handgun.A man carrying a handgun.

If you want to carry a concealed gun in West Virginia, you'll have to register with authorities, take a safety course, and pass a background check to obtain a permit. If you've been convicted of a felony or violent misdemeanor, if you're on probation or deemed mentally ill by a doctor, the state has the right to deny a concealed carry permit.

Seems reasonable, right? Particularly in light of mass shootings committed by mentally ill suspects -- like Adam Lanza, who killed 20 kids and seven adults in Sandy Hook, Connecticut -- the requirements make sense. They won't seriously inconvenience legitimate gun owners, but hopefully they'll prevent a person like Lanza from walking around packing heat in a hidden holster.

But most of West Virginia's state lawmakers, and their masters at the National Rifle Association, don't agree. They want to do away with permit requirements for concealed handguns altogether.

This kind of gun-rights-at-all-costs opposition to reasonable gun laws is what makes people loathe the NRA, and it proves just how powerful the gun lobby is.

The fact is, a majority of West Virginians think permit requirements are a good idea.

Eighty-three percent of the state's likely voters supported concealed carry permits in a March 2015 poll by Everytown for Gun Safety, says the Huffington Post. A new poll released on Feb. 8 by SurveyUSA found 84 percent of likely voters and 87 percent of gun owners want to keep the permit system.

So do police chiefs and sheriffs in the state, many of whom are Republicans. It was concern on the part of sheriffs and police chiefs that prompted West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin to veto a 2015 bill that would have done away with concealed carry permits.

Yet here we are again in 2016, with state lawmakers making the same push to get rid of permits.

Despite widespread opposition from voters and police, the bill passed by more than a 2 to 1 margin in West Virginia's House of Delegates, according to NPR.

While state lawmakers debated the issue before the Feb. 8 vote, representatives from the NRA were there, backing the politicians they own and piping up to offer talking points.

Delegate Patrick Lane justified going against the will of a clear majority of West Virginians.

"The whole point of the Bill of Rights is to protect the minority from the majority," Lane said, according to the Gazette-Mail.

Others shared their enthusiasm for the conservative ultimate dream of killing a robber or rapist, saving the day and becoming a hero.

“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,” Keith Carte, a member of the West Virginia Citizens Defense League, told lawmakers. “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.”

What's Carte proposing exactly? That people shoot homeless men begging for change instead of brushing them off or helping them out?

There are legitimate reasons for the law West Virginia already has on the books.

"It's just common sense that if a person wants to carry a loaded, hidden handgun in public, they need to demonstrate they have a clean recent violent criminal record and have been trained to handle and carry a gun safely," Dee Price of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America said in May, the last time the no-permit law was vetoed.

But the lead sponsor of the bill, 19-year-old Delegate Saira Blair, said the bill is necessary because she gets death threats from trolls on the internet. Her version of the proposed law would allow people between the ages of 18 and 21 to carry, albeit with a permit.

"I'm the only person standing in this chamber in the 18 to 21 year old age period," Blair said, per NPR. "I can currently not get a permit to carry, and I'll tell you right now, I am scared. I've received multiple death threats in the past year. I am scared. I'm not going to stop what I do on a daily basis ... but I would feel safer as a law abiding citizen if I knew that I was able to protect myself."

You have to give Blair credit. When it comes to tabulating boogeymen to scare people into passing a vote, she learned from the best: the NRA.

If West Virginians want sanity to prevail, they should call and write to their state representatives and remind them that they answer to the voters, not a lobbyist group in Washington, D.C.

Sources: NPR, The Huffington Post, Charleston Gazette-Mail / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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