CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Lawmakers in West Virginia are gearing up for another attempt at making it legal to carry concealed weapons in the state without a permit, and their chances of success are high.
The Republican-led Legislature overwhelmingly passed a measure earlier this year to allow people to carry out-of-sight guns without a permit. Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed it, citing safety concerns and an outcry from law enforcement. The Legislature ran out of time and wasn’t able to hold a vote attempt at overriding the veto.
Sen. Bill Cole, the president of West Virginia’s Senate, said legislators are working on a new version of the legislation for to appease law enforcement’s concerns, and some possibilities have emerged: increasing penalties for gun-related crimes, requiring 18- to 21-year-olds to undergo the gun training currently required for concealed carry permits, and limiting the new law to West Virginia residents.
Cole said the permitless carry bill is intended to expand the rights of law-abiding citizens, not criminals.
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“The crooks, the drug dealers, they already have a gun under their coat, and they don’t have a concealed carry permit,” Cole said.
It’s already legal to carry a gun openly — for instance, in a holster — without a permit in West Virginia. Only a handful of states have that kind of leniency, including Maine, Alaska, Arizona, Kansas, Vermont and Wyoming.
Some states have limited access to firearms since the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which a mentally troubled young man killed 26 children and educators. Others, like West Virginia, have looked to loosen gun restrictions.
Recent mass shootings at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, a community college in Oregon and a church in South Carolina have reignited passions on both sides of the gun control debate.
In New Hampshire and Montana this year, Democratic governors followed Tomblin’s example by vetoing similar permitless carry bills spearheaded by Republican lawmakers.
Many pro-gun Democrats also joined Republicans in approving the bill this year by a 71-29 margin in the House of Delegates and 30-4 in the Senate. It only takes more “yes” than “no” votes to override a veto in West Virginia, but lawmakers ran out of time to take it back up in this year’s session.
The final vetoed version only applied to people 21 years old and up, and younger military members.
Tomblin spokesman Chris Stadelman said the governor would likely again veto the same legislation, although Tomblin hasn’t had discussions about a different version of the bill. Lawmakers will likely have enough support to override any veto, however.
This year’s bill was vetoed amid pressure from the West Virginia Sheriffs’ Association, Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and Everytown for Gun Safety, a group backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Everytown conducted polling, sent out direct mail and bought digital ads opposing the legislation.
“We certainly plan to oppose it again,” said Dee Price, West Virginia leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, an offshoot of Everytown. “It’s dangerous, irresponsible legislation.”
The sheriffs group, which was most concerned about the lack of required training, said everything is on the table this year.
“We’re not beyond compromise because of the fact that we aren’t anti-gun,” said Rodney Miller, Sheriffs’ Association executive director.
The West Virginia Citizens Defense League contends that the opposition wasn’t about safety, and instead was about the money that is brought in for county sheriffs through the permitting process.
Tomblin, who previously was endorsed by the National Rifle Association, has signed several other pro-gun bills. In 2014, he signed a bill making it impossible for city officials to ban guns at such facilities as city swimming pools, tennis courts, after-school centers and similar recreational venues.
The law allows only people with concealed carry permits to bring guns to those locations, but they must be “out of view and access to others,” or locked in cars and out of sight.