Posted: April 2, 2015 at 1:03 pm
By Chad Kriss, Danielle Mastro and Matthew Mister
Last December, Jody Hunt, a towing truck operator in the Morgantown area, went on a killing spree that left five people dead, including himself. Hunt was a convicted felon who should not have been in possession of a firearm, and some blame his rampage on the laxness of West Virginia’s gun laws.
West Virginia Governor Tomblin may have been thinking of Hunt’s massacre when he vetoed a bill passed by the state legislature in March that would have allowed residents to carry guns without a concealed weapon permit. Law enforcement officials say such a law would have made living in West Virginia even more dangerous than it already is.
“I don’t know why it would make sense to remove the safety requirement to buy a gun,” Jefferson County Delegate Stephen Skinner said.
West Virginia’s gun laws are already among the least restrictive in the United States, according to the FBI. Residents of the Mountain State can buy and sell guns at gun shows or from private sales without a background check. Hunt acquired his illegal firearm in a private sale and no charges were issued against the seller of the gun, according to police. In addition, the state does not require a gun purchase permit for private sales, which means that guns are easy to acquire and hard to trace.
In 2012, West Virginia had the 12th highest death rate from firearms in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Murders and aggravated assaults involving firearms are on the rise in West Virginia, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report.
Experts blame the high rate of gun violence in West Virginia on the state’s lax gun control laws and the fact that so many people in the state own guns. More than 55 percent of West Virginians own a gun, one of the highest gun ownership rates in the nation.
The bill that Tomblin vetoed would have made things worse.
“My biggest concern is an 18 year old with no training carrying around a gun at a party, drinking and a guy is hitting on another guys girl and him along with 10 other guys have guns,” said Jefferson County Sheriff, Peter Dougherty.
In addition, the legislation would have lowered the legal age to carry a concealed weapon from 21 to 18.
Currently, West Virginia gun owners can take their weapons into neighboring states as long as they have a concealed weapons permit, according to the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2014.
With the concealed carrying age dropping to 18, Monongalia County Sheriff, Al Kisner, believes that West Virginia’s reciprocity agreement with other states would be null and void since the threshold in those jurisdictions is 21 years of age. West Virginia citizens carrying a concealed deadly weapon could thus have been arrested in other states.
As of now, a West Virginia citizen must complete eight hours of gun training, a background check, and pay a $100 fee to obtain a gun permit in West Virginia. If the new legislation had passed, people would have been able to buy a gun and carry it without training, background check, and fee.
“With every life comes a responsibility. I’m for everyone carrying a gun, but I’m concerned for the safety of the public if everyone carries a gun,” Dougherty said.
Monongalia County Commissioner Tom Bloom says it is common sense to require gun permits to safeguard police officers as well as Morgantown citizens.
“Due to excessive drinking after hours, we’ve had some violent confrontations,” Bloom says. “The worst thing would be [someone] having a gun with them when [such] a confrontation took place.”
If the bill had passed, law enforcement would have lost funding they now receive from the concealed carry permit fees. In Monongalia County, for instance, 60 percent of concealed carry gun permit funds go to the Sheriff’s Department, 25 percent go to the West Virginia State Police, and 15 percent to the West Virginia Courthouse Facilities Improvement Authority.
Without these permit fees, law enforcement would no longer be able to purchase new bulletproof vests, improvements on police cars, courthouse renovations, and police training.
“When you pull that funding from an agency, what that does is that it directly affects the people that we serve,” Kisner says.
If the law had passed, Monongalia County would have had to raise their levy taxes from 9.5 cents to 12 cents to
offset losses from the permit fund’s absence, according to Bloom.
However, even with Governor Tomblin’s veto, legislators are already planning to reintroduce the bill in the next
legislative session in 2016. And law enforcement officials will continue to oppose it.
“My understanding is that the bill will be brought up again and that it is a high priority,” Skinner said.