- Associated Press - Monday, February 22, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - People 21 years and older would be allowed to carry concealed guns in West Virginia without permits or training under a bill that passed the Senate on Monday.

Senators voted 24-9 to approve the measure Monday. The bill requires at least one additional House vote before the Republican-led Legislature sends it to Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who vetoed a similar proposal last year over safety concerns from law enforcement.

Currently, it’s legal in West Virginia to carry a gun openly without a permit, like in a holster.

The bill would let people cover up guns in public without a permit; for instance, by wearing a coat. People ages 18 through 20 would need a permit and training with live firing.

Only a handful of states don’t require concealed carry permits.

Proponents of the bill cited 2nd Amendment rights and said the proposal wouldn’t be a huge change, since open carry is already allowed.

“The arming of law-abiding West Virginia citizens, without red tape, without enormous expense that deters people from seeking licenses, will make us safer,” said Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan.

Opponents worried about possible safety implications, including letting people from other states funnel into West Virginia and carry hidden guns without permits or training.

“We’re setting into play a situation where we could have blood on our own hands later on, and I can’t be a party to that,” said Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia.

This year’s bill would also increase penalties for felonies committed with a gun. County sheriffs have still expressed concerns about safety in this year’s bill.

“We still believe that training and safety are paramount,” said Rodney Miller, West Virginia Sheriffs’ Association executive director.

Tomblin vetoed a similar bill last year, and has said he would veto it again if the proposal comes to him in a form that concerns law enforcement.

However, the Legislature would only need a simple majority vote to override the governor’s possible veto. The GOP has already overridden vetoes this on a so-called right-to-work bill and the repeal of the state’s prevailing wage for public construction projects.

Everytown for Gun Safety, a group funded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has spent “in the six-figure range” in its campaign against the bill, according to group spokeswoman Kate Folmar. That includes billboards, polling and digital and print ads.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin also came out in opposition to the bill last year, saying that permits and training are common sense. No one’s 2nd Amendment rights are being infringed upon without it, he added.

The West Virginia Citizens Defense League and the National Rifle Association are advocating for the change. The league believes that concealed carry permits are just an added tax on gun owners that go to sheriff’s offices.

A Senate panel killed a Democratic amendment that would’ve eliminated the fees and kept the permitting requirements intact.

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