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Bishop pleads for ban on semi-automatic firearms in West Virginia

The bishop in West Virginia is urging Gov. Jim Justice to call a special session to ban high-capacity, semi-automatic rifles.

The push by Bishop Mark Brennan of the Wheeling-Charleston diocese comes after a spree of mass shootings, most recently the killings of nineteen elementary school students and two teachers in Texas.

“The governor should call a special session of the Legislature to ban assault weapons. That’s a start,” Brennan said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

“Governor Justice, call a special session of the Legislature to address this issue. Because what happened in Texas two days ago could happen in West Virginia, just as easily.”

The gunman in Uvalde, Texas, bought a semi-automatic rifle from a local sporting goods store the day after turning 18, authorities said. He returned days later to buy 375 rounds of ammunition and then an AR-style rifle.

His rampage started by shooting and critically wounding his 66-year-old grandmother. He then took off in a pickup truck, crashed it into a ditch, went through a side door, entered a classroom and remained for up to an hour. During that time, he killed the young students and teachers before being shot himself by responding police.

The mass shooting in Texas was just a little more than a week following another where 10 people were killed in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York. The shooter there, also 18, used a Bushmaster XM-15, purchased from a gun store. A background check apparently came up clean even though the shooter had been ordered to take a psychiatric evaluation almost a year ago.

The back-to-back mass killings have renewed national debate over what to do. Discussions have included additional support for mental health services, support to ensure entrances to schools are limited, red flag laws allowing temporary removal of weapons from people representing a danger to themselves or others, raising the legal age for gun purchases, banning high-capacity magazines or expanded background checks.

In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy is pushing for passage of several gun-control proposals including requirements to pass gun safety classes to buy firearms in that state, requirements for storing guns, banning future sales of .50 caliber guns and raising the age limit to buy guns from 18 up to 21.

”In the face of mass shooting after mass shooting throughout our nation, in the face of children being slaughtered to the point where the reports indicate these beautiful children were unrecognizable, I say let these folks come out from behind their press releases and their tweets and cast votes before the residents of this great state,” said Murphy, a Democrat.

In West Virginia, Bishop Brennan issued a statement on Tuesday saying prayers are not enough. He said society must do more to keep high-capacity firearms away from people “whose sole purpose is to use such weapons to commit atrocities against our brothers and sisters.”

Brennan followed up in the “Talkline” interview by proposing strict limits on purchasing some weapons while also suggesting a buy-back program.

“He’s called them into sessions for other reasons. He should do it for this,” Brennan said of the governor. “You could buy back the kinds of weapons that are used, basically for killing people, buy them back. The state has a huge surplus in its budget. Buy them back and destroy them. This is a matter of public safety, and we should not delude ourselves into thinking what has happened elsewhere can’t happen here too.”

Governor Justice publicly revealed Wednesday evening that he has been sick and is trying to recover. His office indicated that means the governor would not be able to respond right away to the bishop’s plea. “But we expect he’ll be back on his feet soon and, of course, he will address the tragedy in Texas and all related matters,” an administration spokesman said.

In 2019, shortly after mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, respondents to a question about regulating semi-automatic guns were almost evenly divided, according to the MetroNews West Virginia Poll.

Participants in the survey were asked, “Are you for or against a law that would make it illegal to manufacture, sell or possess semi-automatic guns, known as assault rifles?” The poll showed that 53 percent responded that they are for such a policy while 47 percent would be against it.

Semi-automatic guns fire a bullet each time the trigger is pulled and also perform all the steps necessary to prepare it to discharge again.

A Federal Assault Weapons Ban was signed into law in 1994 but expired in 2004. Loopholes in the law have prompted debate over how effective it was.

Brennan described such a ban on the state level as beneficial to public safety.

“I would hope that they’d have consciences, which are working properly, in that public officials who are committed to the common good would recognize that the ban of these types of weapons would work for the common good,” he said.

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