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The Charleston Gazette speaks out for the public’s right to know about concealed weapons permits

Secret: Hidden pistols

In the past, researchers estimated that only about 1 percent of Americans carry loaded pistols hidden in their pockets. Yet this tiny group has enormous political power. Rural, conservative legislators are terrified of the gun lobby, giving it whatever it wants.

West Virginia’s laws are so loose that virtually any adult — except felons, mental defectives or wife-bashers — easily may obtain a concealed weapon permit. Up to now, the record of those permits has been open to the public, so West Virginians can know which neighbors may be wearing secret guns.

Now, however, the National Rifle Association and other gun zealots want to hide this information from the people. They want to prevent anyone from knowing that gun-packers are armed to kill.

Senate Bill 198, sponsored by Senate President Jeff Kessler and others, would make pistol permits exempt from the Freedom of Information Act — allowing gun-carriers to roam, unknown and undetectable. Since most lawmakers fear the gun lobby, this change is likely to pass overwhelmingly.

Don Smith of the West Virginia Press Association says lawmakers shouldn’t hide government records from the people. He’s mustering opposition to the NRA-backed bill. We hope he succeeds.

The 99 percent who don’t carry loaded pistols never seem to be heard. We think legislators should support their right to know which neighbor has a gun hidden under his jacket, prepared to kill at any instant.

Meanwhile, a different NRA proposal — S.B. 317, similar to two House bills — also has been introduced by President Kessler and others in an attempt to “get the gun debate out of home rule.” But Charleston officials say it still prevents cities from trying to protect residents from gun murder. It would revoke local laws in Charleston and other municipalities that limit pistol purchases to reduce the notorious drugs-for-guns trade.

S.B. 317 would let the NRA or any gun fanatic sue Charleston — and force city taxpayers to pay their legal bills. It would forbid a city to keep gun shops out of residential neighborhoods, and outlaw local gun buybacks. What pathetic subservience to the small minority of gun-carriers.

Last year, after the Connecticut grade-school massacre, West Virginia legislators introduced three dozen bills to increase pistol-packing. So far, the same sad mentality continues.

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