Surveys have shown how that more than half of all West Virginians have guns in or around their homes. In one survey from a few years ago, only Alaska and Wyoming had higher rates of gun ownership.
And West Virginians made it clear in a 1986 addition to the state Constitution what they believe the Second Amendment means: “A person has a right to keep and bear arms for the defense of self, family, home and state and for lawful hunting and recreational use,” reads Article three, Section 22.
That Constitutional Amendment passed by a five to one margin (342,963 to 67,168).
The wording of the amendment is interesting. It lists personal defense ahead of hunting. In West Virginia, owning a gun it not just about shooting a deer or a squirrel; that’s a given.
No, here gun ownership is deeply ingrained in a culture where individuality and personal freedom combine with a wariness of authority. Additionally, as a rural state, families have frequently had to depend more on themselves and their neighbors than a rapid police response to a real or perceived threat.
Owning a gun is as natural here as having a lock on your door.
West Virginia is a conservative state. A recent survey by Harper Polling found that 60 percent of West Virginians questioned identify themselves as either very conservative or somewhat conservative.
And so when President Obama and a liberal Senator from California—Diane Feinstein—propose outlawing certain kinds of guns, it’s predictable that many West Virginians would react with anger, resentment and even fear.
West Virginia’s Congressional delegation has, for the most part, picked up on that vibe.
“My phone is on fire,” 2nd District Republican Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito told me on Talkline Monday, alluding to the overwhelming feedback from constituents who are worried about their SecondAmendment rights.
Capito, fellow Republican Congressman David McKinley from the 1st District and 3rd District Democrat Nick Rahall are all against an assault weapons ban. Additionally, none of the three sound like they are interested in expanding the current background check system.
On the Senate side, Joe Manchin also stands opposed to an assault weapons ban, but he supports legislation establishing universal background checks with some exemptions for family members to transfer guns.
Only long-time Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller supports significantly tighter gun laws. In fact, Rockefeller is a co-sponsor for the Feinstein bill.
Rockefeller, who voted for the assault weapons ban in 1994 that expired in 2004, says he respects the rights of hunters and the Second Amendment, but he sees assault weapons differently.
“Most hunters I talk with know that prohibiting the use of military-grade weapons or clips that can fire dozens of rounds in a matter of seconds will not impact those traditions, nor do they have a place on our streets,” Rockefeller said after the Sandy Hook massacre.
Rockefeller is not running for re-election in 2014, so he has the luxury of ignoring the political consequences of a position that’s counter to a large segment of his constituency. Those politicians who are going to be on the ballot next year, however, need to pay closer attention to what voters are telling them.