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GOP senator cites conscience in vote against gun bill

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — A controversial bill allowing concealed carry of a weapon without a permit is headed to the governor’s desk, but some officials say they still are concerned with elements of the legislation adopted by the West Virginia Legislature.

On Friday the Senate concurred with the House on changes to Senate Bill 347.

The Firearms Act of 2015, also known as a constitutional carry bill, would allow anyone age 21 and older who is a West Virginia resident and who can legally own a firearm to conceal carry the weapon without a permit. The bill does away with the permit process.

West Virginia already is an open-carry state, meaning a legally owned weapon can be carried in plain sight.

Only four senators voted against sending the bill to the governor: Mike Miller, D-Greenbrier; David Nohe, R-Wood; Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha; and Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson.

Nohe, who has been a staunch supporter of the National Rifle Association and annually receives high marks from the organization, said he is expecting fallout from his vote.

“I’ve seen some already, on blogs and such, but I’m sure I’ll get more,” he said. “I hate to take a hit on my (NRA) rating, but I just had to vote my conscience.”

Nohe, who is a former detective with the Wood County Sheriff’s Department and has had a concealed carry permit for more than 40 years, said the bill as presented was plagued with issues.

“One, there was no requirement for any type of NRA instruction on firearms,” he said. “Second, people from out of state could cross into West Virginia and immediately carry a gun and conceal it.”

Proponents of the bill have argued with that second point, saying reciprocity agreements between states would still require permits.

Nohe said he also had issues with the original bill which allowed anyone age 18 or older to carry concealed. That requirement was increased to 21 by a House committee.

Nohe said when the bill first came to the Senate there was little input from law enforcement or other groups, but when a public hearing was held in the House, officers from around the state flooded the Capitol to oppose the bill.

“I still had hope it would be amended on my concerns and I could support it, but in the end the only change was the age requirement,” he said. “I could not support it on concerns of safety for the citizens of West Virginia.”

Nohe said voting against an NRA-supported bill “is usually considered political suicide.

“Even though it was not an NRA bill, it was strongly supported by the NRA and I have an A rating with them. I will probably lose my A rating, but I have a conscience I have to live with.”

During a press conference Saturday at the Capitol in Charleston, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin also expressed concerns over the bill

“I know our police officers, city police, state police, deputy sheriffs, all have a great deal of concern about it,” Tomblin said. “It’s one I will take a close look at.”

Tomblin said an amendment by the House to raise the legal age from 18 to 21 for concealed carry without a permit has helped allay some fears, but there remain issues with the bill, including how it would work with people traveling between states.

“There are still a lot of questions about what do we do with reciprocity. We have agreements with 30 other states,” he said.

Tomblin said he has not ruled out vetoing the bill.

“That’s a possibility,” he said.

Shayna Varner, press secretary for the governor, said Tomblin has 15 days, excluding Sundays, from the time he receives a bill to consider the legislation. If he does not pass or veto the bill by that point, it would automatically become law, she said.

Varner said Monday the bill has not yet come to the governor’s office.

The Legislature can override a governor’s veto on a regular bill by a simple majority in both houses. A budget bill requires a two-thirds majority to override. The Legislature this year already has overridden one veto by the governor, though lawmakers have not said whether they believe another override is possible.

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