CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is expressing his sympathy for the family of a 15-year-old who was shot dead on Charleston’s East End last week, and the governor also expressed concern about the effect of West Virginia’s new law allowing concealed carry of firearms without a permit.
“I have abiding concerns about the consequences of these significant changes to state law, especially the concerns that have been shared with me by law enforcement officers across the state,” according to a Tomblin statement released by his office. “The loss of this young man certainly brings those concerns into sharp focus once again.”
Tomblin twice vetoed the law allowing concealed carry without a permit but the Legislature overrode his veto this past session. The law went into effect May 24.
Fifteen-year-old Charleston resident James Means was fatally shot twice in the abdomen after a Nov. 21 confrontation on the East End.
William Pulliam, a 62-year-old Charleston resident, has been charged with first-degree murder. Charleston police asked federal authorities to determine if the killing meets the definition of a hate crime. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Thursday.
Investigators say a .380 revolver was the weapon in James’s slaying.
Because Pulliam pleaded no contest in a 2013 domestic violence case, he wasn’t allowed to have a gun at all. In that case, he was accused of striking his pregnant daughter in the face and kicking her in the stomach. He was also accused of shoving his wife to the ground.
Tomblin expressed sorrow about what happened to James and also continued reservations about the effect conceal carry without a permit requirement.
“The loss of such a young life is always devastating,” the governor stated. “As my thoughts have been with the family and friends of James Means, whose death has shaken the Charleston community, my mind has also been on the serious policy questions we’ve been confronted with in recent years regarding firearms.”
“I’ve always been an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment, but at the same time I believe we must balance protecting those rights with ensuring public and law enforcement safety.”
According to a criminal complaint, James had bumped into 62-year-old William Pulliam outside the Dollar General on Charleston’s East End. The two exchanged words, and Pulliam walked on into the store.
A few minutes later, when Pulliam walked past the house where James and his friends were gathered, they continued to argue and James walked across the street to confront Pulliam. That’s when, according to the complaint, Pulliam shot James twice.
James was taken by ambulance to the hospital. Pulliam ate dinner and went to a friend’s home, according to the criminal complaint. That’s where police arrested him and located the .380 revolver believed to be the weapon in James’s slaying.
State Senator Ed Gaunch, a Republican from Kanawha County, said he knew James from his church, Emmanuel Baptist on Charleston’s West Side. Gaunch said James was involved with youth activities at the church when he was younger.
“This is a tragedy of immense proportions,” Gaunch said in a telephone interview. “It’s even a little more personal for me. That young man has a history in my church. We have an after school program we participated in. I remember him as a little tiny boy.”
Gaunch voted for the new concealed carry law and doubts it played a factor in this case.
“I think it had none,” Gaunch said. “I thought it at the time. Folks who are bent on doing terrible acts like this find a way to get guns. I’d be interested to know where that came from.
“As tragic as this is and as horrible as it is — it makes me cry to think about that young man — the law has zero impact in this case.”
The West Virginia Council of Churches put out an earlier statement expressing sorrow over James’s death. That organization’s statement did not mention the concealed carry issue but it did discuss broader societal issues.
“We are saddened by this senseless act of violence. We commend the swiftness of the Charleston Police Department regarding this crime and their commitment to transparency and dialogue.
“We are aware that this shooting takes place in a greater context, recognizing the deaths of African American women and men across the nation. We continue to encourage state and federal officials to address racial disparities in the area of civil rights, health, education, housing, social issues, employment, economic development, and criminal and juvenile justice systems, wherever they occur in the United States.
“We lament the deterioration of political discourse in our society that has left many of our African American, Latina and Latino, Jewish, Muslim, immigrant, gay, lesbian, and disabled sisters and brothers feeling vulnerable. We reaffirm our belief that all people are created in the Image of God and are worthy of honor and respect.