The West Virginia Senate has set its sights on handgun regulations.

Two bills described as “pro-gun” by the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) were introduced a week apart and then referred on to the Senate Judiciary Committee last month.

Senate Bill 347, with a stated purpose of creating “The West Virginia Firearms Act of 2015,” drops the requirement in state law that a person must obtain a concealed weapons permit in order to legally carry a concealed handgun. It also eliminates the requirement that a permit and a photo ID must be kept on one’s person while carrying the concealed firearm. 

Currently, county sheriff’s departments issue those permits only after an individual completes an application process that includes verification of the applicant’s identity, criminal record (via a nationwide criminal background check) and mental soundness. In order to receive a permit, an applicant must also complete a training course in handling and firing a handgun.

The West Virginia Citizens Defense League, which identifies itself as “West Virginia’s largest pro-gun lobbying group,” sponsored SB347, according to the organization’s website. The website describes the bill thus: “SB347 would allow law-abiding West Virginians to carry without a license, while preserving the carry license program for those interested in carrying with a license in other states through reciprocity agreements.”

Another feature of the bill, introduced by Sen. Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, is that it authorizes carrying a handgun “for the purposes of self-defense while in the woods of this state whether concealed or not.”

In its present form, SB347 retains State Code language forbidding a person who is “prohibited from possessing firearms” to carry a concealed handgun. Examples of persons so prohibited are those convicted of domestic battery, adjudicated to be mentally incompetent or addicted to alcohol or controlled substances. A first offense violation of this provision is a misdemeanor, and a second offense is a felony.

The second firearms-related measure pending in the Senate is SB275, which would cloak concealed weapons permit applications in secrecy, exempting them from the Freedom of Information Act. Under the provisions of this bill, introduced by Sen. Charles Trump IV, R-Morgan, only law enforcement agencies would be privy to any information on those applications, including the identity of the applicants.

Current state law treats concealed weapons permits much the same as other public documents, such as property transfers, marriage licenses and lawsuit filings, all of which are open records.

SB275 was not on the agenda for the Senate Judiciary Committee’s meeting Friday afternoon, and SB347 was removed from the lengthy agenda after its initial posting. The committee’s next meeting was scheduled for 6 p.m. Sunday.

— E-mail: talvey@

register-herald.com

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