Senators consider change to conceal carry law

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — There are clear advantages to carrying a concealed weapon. The incident at the Good Family Pharmacy in Kanawha County was a textbook case of the gun lobby’s correct assertion, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Buoyed by a more conservative legislature the National Rifle Association and others are pressing for a relaxation of some of the state’s gun laws this session. One of them would remove some of the current restrictions on the conceal carry law. Currently you must be 21 years old and complete a hand gun safety course before you can get a permit. Legislation now before the full Senate would roll back those provisions.  Under the bill everybody who is a law abiding citizen would be able to carry a concealed weapon.

On first glance the idea sounds appropriate.  The second amendment isn’t a suggestion, it’s a right.  But lawmakers should tread carefully as they approach this bill.  The temptation here is to appease the NRA and strip back any and all gun restrictions.

Senator Mike Romano (D-Harrison) said on MetroNews Talkline Tuesday he favors the bill, but worries common sense may be forgotten. One could argue that happens with a lot of things at the State Capitol.

Romano tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to keep a training requirement as a provision of the conceal carry program or to at least keep the age limit at 21.

“I don’t think it makes as big a difference as at first blush it might,” Romano said. “If you kept it at age 21, in other words cut out he college kids and the immature kids.  If I was a kid who got to carry a concealed weapon in college I’d have been one of the dangerous ones.  I had a big ego. I’d want to show everybody what I was carrying.  That’s a recipe for disaster.”

The bill would enable an 18 year old high school kid to be armed.  I can remember when I was 18.  While I think I was mature enough to know how to handle a firearm, I admittedly would have been tempted to show it off.   Pulling out a gun and showing it to people is risky behavior.  I was raised shooting and had a healthy respect for guns from an early age, but not all of my friends were brought up in that environment.   Even fewer today have lifelong exposure to firearms or have any idea how to use one correctly and handle it safely.

Romano is right.  The bravado of a young buck is a dangerous thing.

The Senator also tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to require a safety course.  Again, not a bad idea.

“I think we should require a fundamental handgun safety course so you know how to handle a hand gun,” said Romano. “Most people shoot themselves. That’s what I don’t want in West Virginia.  You’ve got to apply some common sense to these bills.  They sound great. They’re a great idea on paper, but you’ve got to apply common sense to the law.”

There is one incident however which gives me reservations about Romano’s theory, Virginia Tech. A close friend with whom I grew up was a member of the Virginia State Police and was among the first on the scene that  dreadful day in Blacksburg.  He described the positioning of victims in one classroom as “sheep led to slaughter.”  None appeared to have taken any action to stop the shooter or to escape.

I’ve often thought about his story over the years.  The image he painted haunted me.  What if one of those students or a professor  had a pistol?  What if somebody in those doomed classrooms had been armed?  The trail of carnage from a crazed gunman might have been far shorter.   We’ll never know, but the thought has often occurred to me.  Besides, under this law even the 18 year old freshman couldn’t carry a concealed weapon into a college classroom.

Romano said he supports the bill, but clearly has grave reservations.  I have mixed feelings of my own.

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