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Proposed Constitutional Amendment Reinforcing Gun Rights Clears West Virginia Senate

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Will Price
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West Virginia Legislative Photography
Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Trump, R-Morgan, speaks on the floor on Wednesday, March 31.

The West Virginia Senate has adopted a proposed constitutional amendment that would prevent counties and municipalities from passing legislation concerning firearms, ammunition or accessories that conflicts with or is more restrictive than state law.

As Senate Joint Resolution 1 headed for a vote Wednesday, lawmakers debated the idea of balancing the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms with public safety. That conversation kicked off as Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Trump, R-Morgan, explained an amendment he had offered to the resolution.

Trump told fellow senators that the measure had seen changes since leaving his committee that brought about concerns.

He said the introduced version of Senate Joint Resolution 1 — which was reinstated by the Finance Committee last week — could prohibit any kind of restriction of firearms in the state, including anything passed by the Legislature.

Lawmakers adopted Trump's amendment, pulling back from a version of the resolution he called "too broad."

While speaking on the floor, Sen. William Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, acknowledged that he would likely be the only person to oppose Senate Joint Resolution 1. He argued that, while he supports the Second Amendment, localities have different needs in terms of regulating firearms when it comes to public safety.

“Martinsburg is different than Matewan. There's a lot that goes on over in the Eastern Panhandle that doesn't happen in any other part of the state. There is the influence of Baltimore and the D.C. metro area that kind of floods over into that part of the state that's much different than the rural parts of West Virginia,” Ihlenfeld said. “Weirton is different than Welch — and I hate to take away the ability of local officials to address issues of public safety.”

Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Randolph, spoke in favor of the resolution. He called the right to bear arms “a basic human right.”

“A local community simply does not have — in any reading of the natural rights of man — the ability to restrict those rights,” Karnes said. “So this is a good approach to say we are not going to allow local communities to infringe on human rights and to restate that in our Constitution.”

In closing debate on Senate Joint Resolution 1, Trump said local control is necessary on many issues, but not when it comes to constitutional rights.

“It is the same as the right of free speech, the right of the free press, the right to practice religion of a person's choosing,” Trump said. “On none of those, Mr. President, would I think it would ever be appropriate to have a city or a county have the ability to pass an ordinance to restrict the right.”

Lawmakers in the upper chamber adopted Senate Joint Resolution 1 Wednesday on a 33-1 vote, with Ihlenfeld the only vote in opposition.

With Wednesday known as “Crossover Day,” the adoption of Senate Joint Resolution 1 came just ahead of a strict legislative deadline for bills and joint resolutions to clear their chamber of origin.

As a proposed state constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 1 requires a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and House before being placed on the ballot in November 2022 for the general public to ratify the change to the West Virginia Constitution.


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