Gun fever on the Kanawha

“We had to destroy the town in order to save it,” said an Air Force major as quoted by AP reporter Peter Arnett.

In the late ‘60s that quote came to signify the futility and absurdity of America’s presence in Vietnam. It perfectly captured the mindset of those so obsessed with the fight that they lost sight of what they were fighting for.

And so it seems to be with certain West Virginia legislators whose fevered imaginations have conjured a flurry of anti-gun control measures that, far from defending the principles they claim to revere — personal freedom, local control, and constitutional rights — do harm to them all.

The Charleston Gazette reports that “33 bills have been introduced to boost pistol-carrying and assault weapon ownership” in West Virginia, some of them of such studied silliness that they’re actually useful since they will never become law and helpfully remind us of the ridiculousness of those who propose them.

Delegates Eric Householder, Larry Kump, Larry Faircloth, and Mike Folk of Berkeley County have proposed House Bill 2580 which provides that, “all future federal, state, and local statutes, laws, ordinances, and rules concerning firearms, firearm accessories, ammunition, and their accouterments (sic) are invalid and unenforceable.”

Note that the provisions of this bill extend to federal law, which the authors know is beyond the reach of state statutes, making the proposed bill unconstitutional on its face.

Other bills, while just as silly, are not so benign.

The House recently passed Bill 2760, which nullifies all county and local gun ordinances, such as those in Charleston and Martinsburg. Householder told the Hagerstown Herald Mail, “I voted for it because I don’t think cities and municipalities should be able to enact their own gun control laws. If they do, they overstep and infringe on everyone’s Second Amendment rights.”

The misguidedness of Householder’s reasoning, if it can be called that, is stunning specifically because the bill does nothing about laws that infringe on Second Amendment rights.

Amendments to the Constitution and the rights they confer are protected by — you guessed it — the Constitution, the supreme law of the land. So, local laws that contravene the Second Amendment are already null and void with or without this or any other state statute. In fact, the only laws to which House Bill 2760 would apply are those that are constitutional, such as local prohibitions against carrying firearms in public buildings.

In addition to vacating laws that are constitutional, House Bill 2760 is also a powerful example of a one-size-fits-all state mandate being imposed on communities. We wait in breathless anticipation for the next election campaign when the hypocrites-in-waiting who voted for this bill claim to believe in “local control.” And there will be lots of them since only four members of the House, including Jefferson County Delegate Stephen Skinner, had the good sense to vote “no.”

Just as pernicious is another bill sponsored by eleven Democrats, which according to the Associated Press, if enacted, will expand West Virginia’s existing “Stand Your Ground” law so that in addition to allowing residents to “use physical force to repel home intruders or any attackers” it will allow them “to use force to defend another person who is attacked, or to defend any piece of movable property.” The bill also reportedly removes language from current law that requires self-defense to be ‘proportionate’ to the attack.

If you’re not disturbed by the prospect of one 14-year-old being allowed to shoot another because “he grabbed my Mountain Dew” (a piece of movable property), consider that under the law, one is considered to be “attacked” if one merely “reasonably believes” that another “may” inflict harm. So, what happens if two gang members or two feuding neighbors, both of them armed, encounter one another on the street and both “reasonably believe” they are at risk? Are they allowed to shoot it out? Apparently.

What’s tragic is that this legislative hysteria is going on against the backdrop of West Virginia’s inexorable climb in the prevalence of guns and the frequency of gun deaths. Already we’ve surpassed New Jersey and New York where, as in most of the rest of the country, the rates of violent crime and gun deaths are declining. But, not here.

Perhaps the saddest irony of the Legislature’s posturing and pontificating on the issue of guns is a letter sent by speaker of the house Rick Thompson to Beretta USA, a gun manufacturer.

The company is based in Maryland, where a new gun control law was recently passed. Thompson, trying to seize the moment, suggested that Beretta move its headquarters to West Virginia where “the state’s long support of the Second Amendment and our close proximity to your current headquarters, makes us an excellent choice for Beretta USA in your relocation efforts.”

Of course, Beretta, like most companies, won’t move here. Why? Because West Virginia’s economy is putrid, we don’t offer an educated work force, infrastructure is lousy, and budgets for education and other services are being cut – all issues that the Legislature should be concerning itself with instead of descending into an orgy of gun rights mania.

The legislators who are putative defenders of the Constitution, guardians of personal freedom, and proponents of safety by arming everyone would do well to recall another famous Vietnam era quote from cartoonist Walt Kelly whose character, Pogo, warns, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

—Sean O’Leary can be contacted at seanoleary@citlink.net. A version of this column with links to the sources can be found at Sean O’Leary’s blog, www.the-state-of-my-state.com.

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