Earlier this year, much ado was made about House Bill 4145 in the West Virginia Legislature that would make it legal to carry a handgun, either openly or concealed, without a government permit. Supporters of the bill saw it as an exercise of their Second Amendment rights, while detractors saw the bill as dangerous step towards lawlessness and gun violence. House Bill 4145 was vetoed by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, but his veto was overridden, and as of May 24, 2016 West Virginia is now a "Constitutional Carry" state. But what does that mean exactly, and how will it impact citizens of the Mountain State?
Residents of West Virginia between the ages of 18 and 20 will still have to complete an approved safety course and successfully be issued a conceal carry permit by their home county sheriff's office before they can carry a concealed firearm. Additionally, the new law makes it illegal for 18 to 20 years old to buy a handgun over the counter from a Federal Firearm Licensed dealer.
Residents of West Virginia over the age of 21 can carry a concealed handgun without a permit. There are exceptions to this general rule. People who have been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, who are under a domestic violence protective order, who are under indictment for a felony, who have been determined to be mentally incompetent, who have been committed to a mental institution, who are addicted to alcohol or controlled substances, who have been dishonorably discharged from the armed forces, and who are unlawfully in the United States are prohibited from Constitutional Carry. West Virginia Code 61-7-7. Constitutional Carry also adds enhanced penalties for possession of a concealed weapon for these groups of citizens who are prohibited from possessing a firearm. If an unlawful resident, criminal, alcohol or drug addict, or mentally incompetent person possesses a concealed weapon, he or she will be charged with a felony that is punishable by up to three years in prison. If a violent criminal or convicted drug dealer possesses a concealed weapon, he or she will be charged with a felony that is punishable by up to five years in prison. Finally, if a criminal uses a firearm during the commission of a felony, he or she will be charged with a felony that is punishable by up to ten years in prison.
It is also worth mentioning that carrying a concealed weapon across West Virginia state lines is still prohibited. To carry across state borders, citizens must have a permit and be entering a state that recognizes West Virginia concealed handgun licenses. Currently all surrounding states except Maryland recognize West Virginia concealed handgun license.
No mater if you think Constitutional Cary is a triumph for individual rights or a huge mistake, it is vital for West Virginia Residents to know how the new law effects them. There are Constitutional Carry laws in 11 states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming. As this new wave of handgun regulation sweeps across the country it is in every citizen of the United States best interest to know what these laws accomplish
Joshua T. Thompson