Ins and Outs of West Virginia’s New Constitutional Carry Law

Gun owners in West Virginia talk about the pros and cons of Constitutional Carry, which, among other things, allows individuals over 21 in the state to carry a firearm, open or concealed, without formal training.

Open Carry West Virginia from eyesonWV on Vimeo.

On May 26, 2016, West Virginia became one of the 11 states officially allowing residents to carry a concealed firearm without a permit after the state House and Senate chambers voted to override the governor’s veto. House Bill 4145, as it was formally known, faced much scrutiny from gun-control advocates and West Virginia’s Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.

The passing of the concealed carry bill in West Virginia comes at a time when gun rights have become increasingly lax across the nation. While gun rights activists at the state and national level support the bill, the Governor’s veto was out of concern for the protection of law enforcement and civilians. Concealed carry, which allows an individual to carry a firearm concealed on their person, has been regarded as a way to minimize crime because residents in an concealed carry state are readily equipped. However, now anyone over the age of 21 can carry a firearm openly or concealed in West Virginia, if they pass a background check.

The Constitution states Americans have a right to bear arms. According to research done by professors at Columbia University and Boston University, West Virginia ranks fourth in the nation for gun ownership,  with 54 percent of West Virginians owning a gun as of June 2015.  Before the new legislation, a firearm safety course was required in order to receive a permit to carry a concealed weapon in West Virginia. The safety course is no longer required.

A 2013 study from the Center for American Progress found a correlation between state gun ownership and gun violence within the state. In 2015, an ecologic study found the opposite.

Constitutional Carry Is the Least Restrictive Expression of the Second Amendment

While the second amendment has been surrounded by much controversy in recent years, law-abiding American citizens still possess the right to carry a weapon. How they carry the weapon on their person, whether exposed or concealed, depends on what state they reside in. There are three types of gun carry laws across states.

  1. “May-issue”: the most restrictive structure, which can deny applicants a permit even if they meet all of the state’s eligibility requirements. Only eight U.S. states utilize this policy.
  2. “Shall-issue”: the middle-ground, and most popular structure, which grants an applicant a permit to carry a firearm concealed, if they pass a background check, training, or any other provisional requirement by the state. Currently, 34 states adhere to the “shall-issue” gun law.
  3. “Constitutional Carry”: the least restrictive structure as it allows permitless carry within the state. West Virginia became the eighth state to approve constitutional carry, and 11 states in the country had adopted the policy by the end of 2016.

West Virginia previously had a “shall-issue” policy in place, which required residents to undergo background checks, in addition to training and obtaining a permit before being allowed to carry a concealed weapon. Now, with constitutional carry in place, residents of the mountain state can legally carry a firearm on their person, or in close proximity without a permit or formal training. However, the law does require a provisional permitting process for individuals between the ages of 18 and 20 seeking to carry a concealed firearm. Before, no one under the age of 21 was allowed to carry a concealed weapon.

West Virginia Higher Education Institutions Not in Favor of Guns on Campus

A mere eight states allow concealed weapons on college campuses. Currently, firearms are not permitted on any college campus in West Virginia. The most notable stand against the legislature’s bill was at West Liberty University. The Board of Governors at West Liberty unanimously voted in favor of a 30-day comment period on the issue in August, and implemented a new policy on October 4. West Liberty’s policy prohibits individuals from carrying a concealed handgun, or for any weapon to be present on campus.

Similar gun restrictions exist at institutions like West Virginia University, Marshall University, and Fairmont State University. WVU adopted its policy in 1998, which prohibits “possession or storage of a deadly weapon destructive device, or fireworks in any form” on campus, or in University vehicles. West Virginia Higher Education Commission Chancellor Paul Hill confirmed the universities could still prohibit firearms and other deadly weapons on their campuses after the House bill was passed.

West Virginia part of growing Constitutional Carry trend.

When the West Virginia legislature passed House Bill 4145, West Virginia became the eighth state to adopt the law. Since March, Idaho, Mississippi, and Missouri have also permitted constitutional carry.

However, the states that allow constitutional carry appear to be setting a progressive trend that could eventually result in more states adopting a bill. New Hampshire and Utah had bills vetoed by the states’ governors; the same challenge West Virginia faced. Other states like Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Oklahoma have a limited form of permitless carry, which extends to limited areas and does not allow individuals to carry a weapon in a restaurant, or public place like one can in West Virginia.

Fear of an Increased Crime Rate in the State

West Virginia has the 12th highest rate of gun deaths in the country. In 2010, the state’s death rate from gun violence was at 1.5 percent, which means deaths by firearm actually represented only a small percentage of the state’s overall death rate. There were less than 300 deaths reported in West Virginia that year, but law enforcement is concerned the crime rate will rise with House Bill 4145 enacted.  Patrick Morissey, the state’s attorney general disagrees.

“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,” Morrissey said following Governor Tomblin’s initial veto. “The bill not only expands our freedom, but we will keep our citizens protected.”

Story, video and graphics by Roger Turner