CHARLES TOWN – As a bill that would allow quicker adoption of reciprocal recognition of concealed carry licenses from other states appears poised to become law, a feud between a gun rights group and state senate leadership continues.
Concealed carry reciprocity allows citizens of other states who hold concealed carry licenses to practice the same in West Virginia, provided that those states also recognize concealed carry permits issued by West Virginia.
Senate President Jeff Kessler, who co-sponsored Senate Bill 369 along with fellow Democrat John Unger, explained that it will eliminate the requirement for the state enter into a formal, written reciprocity agreement with other states. Instead, the attorney general simply could issue a finding adding a state to the list.
“This is a session that has been dominated, in its early part, by gun bills,” Kessler said. “This has been a high-profile issue. I’m sure it has a lot to do with the Newtown massacre, which I know has raised fears nationally of gun laws, which are being debated quite extensively in Congress.”
Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, said that the debate about guns at the Legislature has been completely different from that being carried out in Washington. “Unlike with the national debate on guns, these are, without exception, 34 pro-gun bills. There is not one single gun restriction bill here.”
Snyder says he expects the reciprocity legislation, along with one or two other bills, to become law by the time the session ends April 13.
Leaders of the West Virginia Citizens Defense League, a state-level gun rights lobby, supports the concealed carry reciprocity bill wholeheartedly. But, according to WVCDL Vice President Art Thomm of Martinsburg, the group remains focused on passage of House Bill 2760, a bill that would nullify a handful of municipal gun regulations, including ones in Charleston and Martinsburg.
But Kessler announced last week that the bill would not leave the Senate. His declaration came after Snyder, chairman of the Government Organizations Committee, had had received threats over what would happen should the legislation fail.
“The threats that were made against certain lawmakers, I don’t think is an effective lobbying tool,” Kessler said then. “I will never move legislation based on threats made against a legislator.”
Thomm has criticized Kessler’s decision, pointing out that the measure passed the House of Delegates by 94 to 4. “It amazes me that a legislator will force his own will when it is blatantly obvious that the bill is supported by his counterparts (in the House), as well as plenty in the Senate.”
Thomm says the Citizens Defense League plans to throw its full weight against Kessler. Already, the group has produced a radio advertisement that will run throughout Kessler’s district, and Thomm promises regular rallies to remind voters of his decision to kill the bill.
“We’re going to remember it,” Thomm said. “He’s going to change his mind or until he is up for re-election, we will be visible in his district on a weekly basis.”
Kessler says the ads, which characterize him as anti-gun, are misleading.
“I have an A+ with the NRA,” Kessler said. “Nearly every pro-Second Amendment piece of legislation that has passed through this chamber in the last decade, I’ve either written or been a champion of.”
Kessler says he authored West Virginia’s Castle Doctrine, which allows a homeowner to defend his or her property with deadly force, and the “Bloomberg Bill,” which outlawed gun purchasing sting operations initiated by other states within West Virginia, along with previous reciprocity bills.
Snyder says HB 2760 is now dead and that it will not pass out of the Government Organizations Committee. While he has previously said that he does not want to “finger” the Citizens Defense League as the authors of the threats against him, he says that letting the bill die will send the message that threatening lawmakers will not produce positive results.
“When the legislative process is driven by intimidation and threats, it would be a very sad day at any legislature in the country,” Snyder said. “You cannot have legislation by intimidation.”