The House of Delegates recently passed what is called “Constitutional Carry” by some, and “Permitless Conceal and Carry” by others. This bill is nearly identical to a bill vetoed by Governor Tomblin last year. The Senate will likely pass it as well, with another likely veto by the governor and an expected veto override by the legislature.

What does it mean? If it becomes law, it means that virtually anyone over the age of 21 will be able to legally conceal a handgun without a permit or training. Right now, training and a permit is needed. In order to get a permit today, an applicant must take a safety course, pass a background check, and be approved by the Sheriff.

Supporters say that the Second Amendment should trump any need to get a permit. This argument is problematic. First, if the ability to carry a gun cannot be restrained, then why does the bill distinguish between age groups? Why are 18 to 21 years not constitutionally protected in the same way those over 21 years old are? More importantly, the current state of constitutional law on the second amendment is fairly clear: “… the Constitution does not give anyone an automatic pass on concealed handgun regulation by the state.”

Public opinion is overwhelmingly opposed to Permitless Conceal and Carry. Importantly, 87 percent of gun owners and 84 percent of current concealed weapon permit holders are opposed. These opinions hold up across gender and party affiliation. It is one of the rare times in West Virginia when both Democrats and Republicans agree: people should complete a gun safety course and obtain a gun permit in order to conceal a handgun in public. Not only the public agrees, but law enforcement officers across West Virginia are nearly unanimous in their opposition.

I am a gun owner. I also know that I represent the vast majority of West Virginians in thinking this is a bad idea. I believe that loosening the rules on concealed weapons will lead to more dangerous situations, more accidental injuries, and death. For the first time in over 50 years, there are more gun deaths than there are deaths from car wrecks annually in the U.S. This is an astounding statistic, with over 30,000 Americans killed by a gun each year.

Currently, West Virginia is 13th in the country per capita for gun deaths. Someone is killed with a gun approximately every 33 hours in West Virginia. This issue is not discussed, and even in the face of a high rate of death and injury, the Legislature seems to ignore what is obvious: allowing inexperienced people who have not been subjected to any background check to begin to carry concealed handguns will make us less safe.

West Virginia has a moderate approach to gun safety and permits. This will take us off track. The people of the Eastern Panhandle will be impacted in ways we cannot predict. My major concern is for law enforcement and their ability to fight drug trafficking.

Delegate Stephen Skinner represents the 67th District in the West Virginia House of Delegates. He may be reached at stephen.skinner@wvhouse.gov. Keep an eye out for his columns in future issues of The Observer and here on the site.

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