Sustained Outrage

Guns in W.Va.: Permits, politics and the press

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Gun Violence Grave Markers

The Washington Monument stands behind thousands of grave markers erected in a mock cemetery on the National Mall in Washington, Thursday, April 11, 2013, to honor the victims of gun violence . (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

There’s an interesting story making the rounds in West Virginia about a reported increase in the issuance of concealed weapons permits across our state. Here’s how it starts:

The number of concealed weapons permits issued annually in West Virginia has more than quadrupled in the past five years.

In 2009, county sheriffs’ departments issued 11,160 permits allowing residents to carry concealed handguns in most public places. In 2013, that number had jumped to 44,981.

The largest increase was from 2012 to 2013, when the number of permits issued annually increased by more than 15,000, up from 29,712 in 2012.

Those numbers, compiled by the West Virginia State Police, are only the permits issued each year. A permit is valid for five years, so the total number of West Virginians licensed to carry concealed handguns is much higher.

Those numbers, compiled by the West Virginia State Police, represent all active permits. The number includes both new permits and renewal permits.

While some may have been revoked or surrendered, a total of 126,514 permits were issued in the five years from 2009-13.

CORRECTION: In Thursday’s West Virginia Press Association article on concealed weapons permits quadrupling over the last five years, it was the total number of active permits that quadrupled over five years, not just new permits, as was incorrectly stated in the article. Renewals are included in that total number of active permits that quadrupled. The numbers represent the total number of active permits.

The story is getting a fair amount of play, in large part because it was reported and written by Kris Wise Maramba for the West Virginia Press Association, meaning it’s likely to start appearing in newspapers around the state (see here, here and here for examples so far).  The story shows what is clearly an important and newsworthy trend:

gun permit graphic

Gazette graphic by Tye Ward

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A few weeks ago, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey issued a press release making this announcement:

morriseyWest Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced today that West Virginia concealed handgun licenses will now qualify as an alternative to the background check requirements of the Brady Law. As a result, West Virginians with concealed handgun licenses (“CHL”) issued on or after June 4, 2014, will be exempted from undergoing additional background checks every time the license-holder seeks to purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer.

AG Morrisey commented:

We are proud to say West Virginia concealed handgun licensees now qualify for a benefit that has been secured by less than a majority of the 50 states. This is a significant development for law-abiding gun owners in West Virginia who frequently contact our Office regarding the state’s ongoing efforts to qualify for the Brady exemption.

Quite a few media outlets picked up on the release, pretty much publishing what it said without question — and without asking firearms safety advocates or experts for any comment on the development. I found stories here, here, here, and here. The Daily Mail even published an editorial praising the development.

But in Sunday’s Gazette-Mail, reporter David Gutman provided some much-needed context to the issue, explaining:

The newest change to West Virginia’s gun laws will make buying a gun a few minutes quicker for some people, but will also make it easier for some people who have recently committed a crime to buy a gun.

The story went on:

The change, announced by Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, was made possible after the Legislature passed a bill in March clarifying procedures for getting concealed weapons permits.

The only substantive changes made by the new law are two sentences that say that to get a permit, an applicant cannot be barred from owning a gun by another section of state code, or by federal law.

The bill passed both the House of Delegates and the state Senate unanimously, with little notice.

Because the Legislature added those sentences, making it consistent with federal law, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives gave the state a so-called “Brady exemption,” which lets permit holders buy a gun without the background check. West Virginia is the 23rd state to get a Brady exemption.

Nowhere in the bill did it say the changes would result in fewer background checks.

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Rash of shootings again raises critical gun issues

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FedEx Shooting

A FedEx employee, facing, is consoled by family or friends as other FedEx employees wait to meet their family at a near by business after they were evacuated from the Airport Road FedEx facility after an early morning shooting Tuesday April 29, 2014, in Kennesaw, Ga. A shooter opened fire at a FedEx center wounding at least six people before police swarmed the facility. The shooter was found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. (AP Photo/Jason Getz)

This morning, we’re waiting again on word from a mass shooting incident, this one just outside of Atlanta.  Here in Charleston, the Daily Mail has a depressing map that pinpoints the locations of the rash of shootings in our community since the beginning of the year.

Of course, to hear many of our state and local elected officials talk, guns have nothing to do with shootings. And therefore, of course, stronger gun safety laws would not help reduce these sorts of crimes — let alone help avoid accidental shootings or reduce suicides in our state.

The facts and the science suggest otherwise, though … as we’ve reported many times before (see here, here, here and here). One thing that remains hard to understand is how this one fascinating study — showing that the much-touted uniform statewide guns laws that legislators like to push on cities like Charleston — may not in fact be the best approach for West Virginia.