Governor Shoots Down Gun Bill in West Virginia

by | March 4, 2016 AT 5:00 PM

By Phil Kabler

In a ceremony featuring dozens of law enforcement officers from around the state, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed the no-permit concealed-carry bill Thursday (HB 4145), an act he said was "for the safety of law enforcement officers and for all West Virginians."

In a message directed at legislators who are anticipated to override the veto, Tomblin said, "I urge you to look around this room for a moment and see that law enforcement are concerned about this bill."

Tomblin had called together West Virginia State Police, county sheriff's departments and various city police officers, as well as officers from the Capitol's Division of Protective Services and campus police units, who filled much of the Governor's Reception Room for the ceremony.

Among the speakers, Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper was blunt, saying, "Do we really want to take away a sensible protection for our law enforcement and, for that matter, our children and grandchildren?"

Carper produced several handguns seized in recent days by Kanawha County deputy sheriffs and Charleston police officers from individuals who, under existing law, were illegally concealing the weapons.

Holding a gun taken Tuesday from an individual who had it stuffed in his pants, Carper said, "This bill would have allowed him to keep his gun in his belt, and then stick it in the belly of a police officer. That's not what the Second Amendment is about."

Citing opinion polls showing that more than 80 percent of likely voters, as well as gun owners, support the existing law requiring background checks and gun safety training to obtain concealed-carry permits, Carper said, "This is a bad bill. If it's such a great idea, then why don't they let the people of West Virginia vote on it?"

Raleigh County Sheriff Steve Tanner, one of several officers to speak in support of Tomblin's veto, said the West Virginia Sheriffs' Association is unanimous in its opposition to the unlicensed concealed-carry bill.

"This is just bad law. It endangers law enforcement, and it endangers the public," he said.

Likewise, state Chiefs of Police Association Vice President Joe Crawford said he hopes the Legislature will not attempt to override Tomblin's veto.

"At some point, common sense ought to kick in," Crawford said.

Afterward, Tomblin said he believes election-year politics is driving the Legislature's support for the bill, adding, "It's one of those things certain groups out there consider very important in election years."

He said litigation to have the legislation overturned in court could be an option if the Legislature overrides the veto, a process that requires a simple majority vote of members of the House and Senate. Initially, the bill passed the House of Delegates 68-33 and the Senate on a 24-9 vote.

In a statement Thursday, Dakota Moore, West Virginia lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, called on the Legislature to proceed with that override.

"Gov. Tomblin's decision to veto this bill is unfortunate, especially considering the significant support HB 4145 had from both sides of the aisle," the Fairfax, Va.-based lobbyist said. "We're hopeful that, in going back to the Legislature, each chamber will promptly reaffirm the rights of law-abiding individuals."

Meanwhile, Diane Pendleton, a volunteer with the West Virginia chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said the group is grateful for Tomblin's veto and urged the Legislature to stand with the majority of West Virginians.

"It is time for the West Virginia Legislature to stop playing games with our safety -- and to say no to HB 4145 once and for all," she said. "I urge our elected officials to listen to their constituents, rather than the gun lobby, and to allow the governor's veto to stand, rather than embarking on a divisive veto override fight."

Last year, Tomblin vetoed a similar unlicensed concealed-carry bill, also citing law enforcement concerns. That bill was passed late in the regular session, and the Legislature had adjourned the 2015 session by the time Tomblin issued the veto.

This year's veto comes with nine days remaining in the 2016 regular session.

(c)2016 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.)