By more than a 2-1 ratio, lawmakers in West Virginia's House of Delegates have approved a bill that would allow gun owners to carry concealed handguns without a permit. The only concealed-carry permits would be for people who are 18-21 years old.
Urging her colleagues to approve the bill, its 19-year-old sponsor, Delegate Saira Blair, said that while she was frightened by death threats she had received, she would feel more secure knowing she could protect herself.
Both chambers of West Virginia's legislature approved a similar measure last year, but it was vetoed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who cited concerns raised by law enforcement officers.
Yesterday, Tomblin, a Democrat who's not eligible to run for reelection this fall due to term limits, said via Twitter that he will "veto any concealed carry bill that does not take into consideration the concerns of law enforcement for the safety of our officers."
Blair, a Republican who at 19 is the youngest member of the House, was the lead sponsor of the bill, which was approved in a 68-31 vote. Here's part of her speech to the legislature, as quoted by West Virginia Public Broadcasting:
"I'm the only person standing in this chamber in the 18 to 21 year old age period. 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; I'm not going to stop going to the mall, I'm not going to stop going to the movies, and I'm not going to stop going to church because of it, but I would feel safer as a law abiding citizen if I knew that I was able to protect myself."
The bill raised safety concerns for other delegates, who offered amendments that would have: maintained training requirements; reserved concealed-carry only for state residents; toughened penalties for breaking gun laws; and required casualty insurance for those carrying concealed guns.
All of those measures were turned away.
The bill passed after hours of debate; in the final tally, more than 10 members of each party broke ranks to vote with the other side. Much of the debate was over the 12 amendments that were put forth; the sole change that was adopted guarantees a tax credit for any permit costs.
Delegates approved the bill despite a recent poll that found "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," according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
That poll was commissioned by Everytown for Gun Safety and the West Virginia chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the newspaper says, adding that one of the bill's supporters, Delegate Patrick Lane, responded to the poll results by saying, "The whole point of the Bill of Rights is to protect the minority from the majority."
If the bill were to pass, West Virginia would join a handful of states – such as Alaska, Arizona, Maine, Montana, Wyoming, and Vermont – where gun owners don't need a special permit to carry concealed weapons in most or all areas of the state. Kansas is the most recent member of that group, having enacted a concealed-carry law last year.
Utah is considering a bill similar to the one in West Virginia's legislature, according to the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action; in Virginia, the Republican-controlled Senate narrowly rejected its own version of the bill last week.
After passage, West Virginia's bill was sent to the Senate, where it was introduced today and referred to the Judiciary Committee.