- Associated Press - Monday, February 23, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia would become the fifth state not to require concealed handgun permits under a legislative proposal that started moving Monday.

A state Senate panel cast a unanimous voice vote to drop the need to get concealed carry permits. Only Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming don’t have the requirement.

It’s the first major pro-gun push under newly minted Republican majorities in the 60-day legislative session, which ends in mid-March. Gun-friendly Democrats likewise loosened firearms restrictions in the eight-plus decades they ran the state Legislature.

Currently, openly carrying a handgun, like in a holster on a hip, is legal without any permit in West Virginia. Thirty-one states total have similar open-carry rules, according to the Law Center to Protect Gun Violence.

Carrying a handgun out of plain site, like underneath a coat, requires a permit.

The West Virginia Sheriffs’ Association cited potential dangers in not requiring permits.

Association Executive Director Rodney Miller said law enforcement would have to assume more people had concealed firearms and lacked required training. That includes people coming in from out of state.

West Virginians would still need permits when they head out of state. Local government gun restrictions, including at courthouses and other buildings, could still apply, Miller said.

Miller said he doesn’t want to see heightened interactions between the public and police, specifically mentioning the Missouri shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown last August.

“The problem with opening it up to let just any person come into West Virginia and carry a firearm is, how do you mitigate and potentially control some of the bad guys?” Miller said before Monday’s meeting.

Permits also provide money for sheriff’s offices, with some of that going toward bulletproof vests and other safety items, Miller said.

Daniel Carey of the National Rifle Association said it should be left up to an individual to seek out handgun training voluntarily.

“I think that any responsible, law-abiding individual who purchases anything, whether it be any tool, whether it be a drill, or hammer, or iPad, or whatever the case might be, they’re going to seek out how to use that properly,” Carey said.

Senators voted down an amendment Monday that would’ve maintained training obligations for people carrying concealed weapons, even without permits.

Some senators in favor cited 2nd Amendment arguments and questioned whether the required training did much good. They also wondered what difference it would make, since people can openly carry handguns now without permits.

The proposal next heads to the Senate floor. It hasn’t progressed in the House yet.

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