COMMENTARY

West Virginia’s new law allowing concealed carry of firearms without a permit drew a lot of heat during last year’s legislative session, and that has rekindled during the past few weeks.

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, whose veto was overridden by the Legislature, renewed his criticism of the new law after the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old on Charleston’s East End.

James Means was shot fatally by 62-year-old William Pulliam, who – no matter what – was illegally carrying a .380 revolver because of his prior no contest plea in a domestic violence case.

Tomblin stated, “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.”

The continued concerns of law enforcement officers are worth the public’s attention.

But what hasn’t gotten much attention is how the concealed carry law actually increased possible punishments for those who use guns illegally – like those with prior domestic violence convictions.

Now I hope you can follow me here. This all comes in the “Crimes and their Punishment” section of state code under the part about dangerous weapons:

Law enforcement may charge a person in misdemeanor possession or felony possession with an additional felony charge if that gun is concealed.

So if a gun is concealed and a person is carrying it illegally, that person may be charged with two counts: possessing the gun (either misdemeanor or felony) and concealing the gun. Before, it was just one.

A misdemeanor gun possession charge is spelled out as possessing a firearm if you also have some other violations such as a prior felony, habitual alcohol addiction, habitual use of a controlled substance, if you’re an illegal immigrant, if you received dishonorable discharge from the military or if you’ve been convicted of domestic battery or domestic assault.

A person who possesses a concealed gun and is in violation of one of those misdemeanor gun possession offenses may also be charged with a felony violation punishable by up to three years and/or up to a $5,000 fine.

It’s a felony to possess a gun if you have been previously convicted of a felony crime of violence or a felony sexual offense or if you have been convicted of a controlled substance offense.

So if you possess a concealed gun and you also have a felony possession charge against you, you could be charged with an additional felony punishable by not more than 10 years or a fine of no more than $10,000 or both.

In the case of Pulliam, only a first-degree murder charge was discussed during his preliminary hearing. But the case now goes to a grand jury, where additional charges may be considered.

I’m no prosecutor, but these gun charges would seem to be applicable in his case, based on his previous domestic battery conviction.

That represents additional teeth in the law that police officers and prosecutors didn’t have before.