The governor of West Virginia vetoed a bill this morning that would have made it the sixth state where residents can carry concealed guns without a permit.
“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,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin wrote in a statement explaining his concerns. “It also would eliminate the required gun safety training courses for those applying for a concealed carry permit.”
SB 347 passed with vast, bipartisan support: 71 to 29 in the state House and 30 to 4 in the Senate. Those are more than enough votes to override the veto, but a special session would have to be called as the legislature has already adjourned for the year. (By West Virginia law, the regular session is only 60 days long.)
In West Virginia, it is already legal to carry guns in the open — on a belt holster, for instance. But to have a gun hidden in a purse or in a jacket pocket, residents must apply for a concealed-carry permit, which costs $100. They also have to pass a background check, vouch that they have no mental health problems, and take a gun safety training course.
The bill would waive the requirement for anyone to obtain such a permit, but the state would still issue them for residents who travel to state that recognize West Virginia’s concealed-carry license.
Opponents of the bill, including law enforcement, worried that allowing people to skip the gun safety class would put the public and police officers at risk.
“There’s not reason in the world not to at least require some training,” a county commissioner testified at a house hearing earlier this month.
“We honor the NRA training that they give to the citizens,” Berkeley County sheriff Kenny Lemaster told WHAG-TV. “So for them to condone something that would send people out not getting trained endangers the public.”
Rep. Rupert Phillips (D), an outspoken supporter of the bill, said the news had taken him aback. “I wasn’t expecting it this morning. I was hoping the governor was going to take a little longer to think about it,” he said. Before today, there was some speculation that Tomblin might allow the bill to become law without his signature by waiting out the deadline.
In 2015, Republicans took control of both the West Virginia House and Senate. This became the first year in decades that the legislature overrode a veto. In March, Tomblin rejected a measure to ban abortions after 20 weeks, citing problems with the proposal’s constitutionality. Lawmakers overrode his veto.
On bills not related to the budget, West Virginia requires only a simple majority to override a veto. But bringing back SB 347 this year will be tougher now that the regular session is over. Gun-rights activists say they are considering asking for a special session, which would need a three-fifths vote in each chamber.
“We have all the votes required in the House; we have near all the votes needed in the senate,” said Art Thomm, who lobbies for the West Virginia Citizen’s Defense League, the group that authored the bill.
Phillips said one concern would be the cost of holding such a session. “It’s pretty expensive—you’re talking forty, fifty thousand dollars a day,” he said. “You don’t want to waste that much money on one bill.”
So far, there are six states that have what are called “constitutional carry” provisions on the books. In Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and (technically) Arkansas, anyone who can lawfully possess a gun is also allowed to walk around in public with that gun concealed. In Wyoming, that right is restricted to residents. Arizona, Wyoming, and Arkansas all passed their laws within the past five years.
In Arkansas, the most recent state to join the gang, though there is ongoing debate between citizens and the state’s attorney general about what, exactly the law allows.
Several states are trying to enact similar laws. Montana’s permitless concealed-carry bill passed the legislature last week and will await the governor’s signature. Kansas’s bill passed the Senate and should face a vote on the House floor soon. New Hampshire’s bill also passed the Senate and sits in a House committee. A hearing is scheduled for next week.