Gun owners in West Virginia will no longer need to get a permit to have a concealed weapon, putting it among the most far-reaching states for gun rights. The House voted on the measure Friday and officially overrode a gubernatorial veto on Saturday.
The law, which does away with the permit and training program for people 21 and older who want to carry a concealed weapon, was supported by the National Rifle Association, but opposed by law enforcement across the state.
“West Virginia’s law enforcement officers have dedicated their lives to keeping us safe and helping us in times of need, and it’s disheartening that the members of the Legislature have chosen not to stand with these brave men and women — putting their safety and the safety of West Virginians at risk,” Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said in a statement Saturday.
Allowing just anyone to carry a concealed weapon means that law enforcement officers have no way of knowing whether someone might be armed. It also means there’s no way to know how much training or expertise a gun carrier has with the weapon. The permitting process also included a background check and a gun safety class, both meant to reduce gun violence.
But gun-rights advocates were quick to applaud the legislature’s move, which can be seen as part of a broader trend across the country towards allowing concealed carry.
“Self-defense is a fundamental right that must be respected,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. “Law-abiding West Virginians are now free to choose the method of self-defense that best suits their needs. The NRA and our five million members are pleased that the legislature voted in support of West Virginians’ Second Amendment freedoms.”
A 2013 study from Center for American Progress found a significant correlation between the strength of a state’s gun laws and gun violence in the state. In fact, the 10 states with the weakest gun laws collectively have a level of gun violence that was more than twice as high than the 10 states with the strongest gun laws.
West Virginia’s rate of gun deaths is currently 12th highest in the nation.
But West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey said the new law would not put law enforcement at risk or increase gun deaths.
“As the chief legal officer of the state and the person in charge of criminal matters for the state at the WV Supreme Court and in federal courts, I know that this legislation will not impact public safety,” he said after the veto. “If this bill is enacted, we will not only expand freedom, but we will keep our citizens protected.”
Tomblin vetoed a similar bill last year, but the legislature didn’t have time to vote on overriding it before the session ended.
When the law kicks in on May 26, West Virginia will become one of eight states that allow concealed carry without a permit. Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Maine, Vermont, and Wyoming are so-called constitutional carry states. In Wyoming, the law applies to residents only.