The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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December 19, 2012

Senate president: ‘Not convinced that everybody needs to have a bazooka on their back’

CHARLESTON — Senate President Jeffrey Kessler says every weapon known to mankind needn’t be placed under the 2nd Amendment umbrella of protection, but any legislation on firearms inspired by the Sandy Hook tragedy is apt to come in Congress, not in West Virginia.

A nation watched in horror last week as the details unfolded in Newtown, Conn., scene of a shooting spree that left 20 children and six adults dead.

“It was a terrible, tragic event,” Kessler, D-Marshall, said Tuesday.

While he doesn’t expect any legislation on gun ownership at the state level, Kessler plans to stay tuned to developments in Congress, since many are clamoring for a tightening on certain firearms with high-capacity magazines.

The lone gunman in Newtown employed a firearm commonly known as an “assault weapon.”

Kessler is known for his unwavering support of the 2nd Amendment and consistently backed bills sought by the National Rifle Association. A few years ago, he led passage of a bill that sought to counter sting operations endorsed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg against gun shops.

Yet, the Senate leader said he feels some restrictions could be in order as weapons become more sophisticated.

“I’m not convinced that everybody needs to have a bazooka on their back, quite frankly,” he said.

“At some point, there are some weapons that the 2nd Amendment should not apply to. Some want assault rifles with so many shots per magazine. Then the next person wants a bazooka, the next one wants a rocket launcher and the next person may want a surface-to-air missile. We all can’t have our finger on the ultimate nuclear device, either.”

Kessler expects no legislation regarding firearms in the Legislature, or any other state for that matter.

“You know, I’ve been a jealous guardian of the 2nd Amendment, and will continue to do that at the state level,” he said.

“But at some point, the right to bear arms does not apply to every single weapon know to man.”

Kessler said the debate should focus on the mental condition of persons seeking to purchase guns through background checks.

“The problem seems to be the use of weapons by deranged people, people that are mentally ill, people that are certainly not fit to be carrying a penknife, let alone a semi-automatic,” the former prosecutor said.

“I think a lot of the focus I would be supporting are efforts to focus on background checks to make sure people that have questions are certified and are competent to carry,” he said.

“That seems to be more of the issue — a lot of crazy people are getting access to the guns that are causing the tragedies. It’s hard to believe they’re not severely mentally illl or hallucinating or just completely out of their minds. There doesn’t appear to be a rational reason for this stuff.”

Hopefully, this state never witnesses the kind of carnage that occurred in Connecticut, but such shootings in recent years have seemed to target schools, the Senate leader said.

Which is why Kessler said the Legislature might want to consider beefed-up security — via technology, not armed guards — in the schoolhouses.

Another key point is to train teachers so they can spot a child who appears to be acting abnormally by recognizing the telltale signs of a troubled individual.

“Mostly on prevention and early detection, making sure people see the warning signs,” Kessler said.

“Whether it’s a loner or someone who appears to be depressed, something that’s going on with a lot of these kids that could be a common signal, or sign.”

Kessler said he supports increased efforts to provide treatment for the mentally ill, moving in a new atmosphere in which suffering myriad such disorders aren’t inhibited by society.

“We have to have an open dialogue so that people are not afraid to seek help and not be stigmatized,” he said.

“Folks need to know they have a place to go, that they can get treatment. It’s a continuum that we need prevention from both intervention and treatment.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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