WASHINGTON, D.C. - Gun control is certainly the most divisive and emotional issue that is nearly invisible in presidential and congressional elections. But on the state level, gun politics are blazing.
One key frontier is the effort to make it easier to carried concealed firearms anywhere, any time. Until the 1980s, most states didn’t have clear rules and regulations about “concealed carry.” Most states now do have some kind of permitting process involving different mixes of background checks, fees and required training.
There has been a big push across the states to get rid of those permits altogether. Vermont has never required permits but Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas and Wyoming have all passed so-called “constitutional carry” laws after 2003.
West Virginia, a pro-gun rights state if there ever was one, was on the verge of going permit-free last week. A bill repealing the law requiring a permit, background check, $100 fee and gun safety training passed the legislature overwhelmingly: 30 to 4 in the Senate, 71 to 29 in the House.
But on Friday, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, vetoed the bill. “Throughout my career, I have strongly supported the Second Amendment, as demonstrated by my repeated endorsements and high grades from the National Rifle Association,” he said in a brief statement. “However, I must also be responsive to the apprehension of law enforcement officers from across the state, who have concerns about the bill as it relates to the safety of their fellow officers.”
The legislature obviously has plenty of votes to override the veto, but they don’t have the time; the legislature meets for only 60 days a year and the session is now over.
The battle will certainly be joined next year, according to Art Thomm, a lobbyist for the West Virginia Citizen’s Defense League. “The people are two things in West Virginia - pro-life and pro-gun,” he said to the Charleston Daily Mail. “If you make decisions against the values of West Virginia I anticipate you being challenged.”
Gov. Tomblin happens to be term-limited, so any challenge to him isn’t going to politically lethal.
Gun rights advocates believe that requiring permits for carrying concealed firearms is an undue burden on Second Amendment rights. A number of state legislatures are now debating getting rid of permits for concealed carry including New Hampshire, Maine, Kansas and Idaho.
But in recent presidential elections, gun issues have simply been too hot to handle. Maybe that’s a good thing. Sometimes the only thing worse than having politicians ignore an issue is having them pay attention.