Sunday, March 17, 2013

GUN FEVER ON THE KANAWHA (Pub Date 3/23/2013)

“We had to destroy the town in order to save it.” An Air Force major as quoted by AP reporter Peter Arnett.

In the late sixties that quote came to signify the futility and absurdity of America’s presence in Vietnam. It perfectly captured the mindset of those so obsessed with the fight that they lost sight of what they were fighting for. And so it seems to be with certain West Virginia legislators whose fevered imaginations have conjured a flurry of anti-gun control measures that, far from defending the principles they claim to revere -- personal freedom, local control, and constitutional rights – do harm to them all.

The Charleston Gazette reports that “33 bills have been introduced to boost pistol-carrying and assault weapon ownership” in West Virginia, some of them of such studied silliness that they’re actually useful since they will never become law and helpfully remind us of the ridiculousness of those who propose them.

Delegates Eric Householder, Larry Kump, Larry Faircloth, and Mike Folk of Berkeley County have proposed House Bill 2580 which provides that, “all future federal, state, and local statutes, laws, ordinances, and rules concerning firearms, firearm accessories, ammunition, and their accouterments(sic) are invalid and unenforceable."

Note that the provisions of this bill extend to federal law, which the authors know is beyond the reach of state statutes, making the proposed bill unconstitutional on its face. Other bills, while just as silly, are not so benign.

The House recently passed Bill 2760, which nullifies all county and local gun ordinances, such as those in Charleston and Martinsburg. Delegate Householder told the Hagerstown Herald Mail, “I voted for it because I don’t think cities and municipalities should be able to enact their own gun control laws.” “If they do, they overstep and infringe on everyone’s Second Amendment rights.”

The misguidedness of Householder’s reasoning, if it can be called that, is stunning specifically because the bill does nothing about laws that infringe on second amendment rights. Amendments to the Constitution and the rights they confer are protected by -- you guessed it -- the Constitution -- the supreme law of the land. So, local laws that contravene the second amendment are already null and void with or without this or any other state statute. In fact, the only laws to which House Bill 2760 would apply are those that are constitutional, such as local prohibitions against carrying firearms in public buildings.

In addition to vacating laws that are constitutional, House Bill 2760 is also a powerful example of a one-size-fits-all state mandate being imposed on communities. We wait in breathless anticipation for the next election campaign when the hypocrites-in-waiting who voted for this bill claim to believe in “local control”. And there will be lots of them since only four members of the House, one of them Jefferson County Delegate Stephen Skinner, had the good sense to vote “no”.

Just as pernicious is another bill sponsored by eleven Democrats, which according to the Associated Press, if enacted, will expand West Virginia’s existing “Stand Your Ground” law so that in addition to allowing residents to “use physical force to repel home intruders or any attackers” it will allow them “to use force to defend another person who is attacked, or to defend any piece of movable property.” The bill also reportedly removes language from current law that requires self-defense to be ‘proportionate’ to the attack.

If you’re not disturbed by the prospect of one fourteen year-old being allowed to shoot another because “he grabbed my Mountain Dew” (a piece of movable property), consider that under the law, one is considered to be “attacked” if one merely “reasonably believes” that another “may” inflict harm. So, what happens if two gang members or two feuding neighbors, both of them armed, encounter one another on the street and both “reasonably believe” they are at risk? Are they allowed to shoot it out? Apparently.

What’s tragic is that this legislative hysteria is going on against the backdrop of West Virginia’s inexorable climb in the prevalence of guns and the frequency of gun deaths. Already we’ve surpassed New Jersey and New York where, as in most of the rest of the country, the rates of violent crime and gun deaths are declining. But, not here.

Perhaps the saddest irony of the legislature’s posturing and pontificating on the issue of guns is a letter sent by speaker of the house Rick Thompson to Beretta USA, a gun manufacturer. The company is based in Maryland, where a new gun control law was recently passed. Thompson, trying to seize the moment, suggested that Beretta move its headquarters to West Virginia where “the state’s long support of the Second Amendment and our close proximity to your current headquarters, makes us an excellent choice for Beretta USA in your relocation efforts.”

Of course, Beretta, like most companies, won’t move here. Why? Because West Virginia’s economy is putrid, we don’t offer an educated workforce, infrastructure is lousy, and budgets for education and other services are being cut – all issues that the legislature should be concerning itself with instead of descending into an orgy of gun rights mania.

The legislators who are putative defenders of the Constitution, guardians of personal freedom, and proponents of safety by arming everyone would do well to recall another famous Vietnam era quote from cartoonist Walt Kelly whose character, Pogo, warns, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Sean O’Leary can be contacted at A version of this column with links to the sources can be found at Sean O’Leary’s blog,


Anonymous said...

Referencing Pogo and the Viet Nam war continues to be a large part of the liberal position it seems. Even now 45 years out.
Yes, it may have a place in some American history class dealing with events of 5 decades ago, but using 'we have seen the enemy and he is us' when dealing with todays 2nd Amendment discussions fails miserably, I'm afraid.

So does Mr. O'Leary's attempt to use a 14 year old shooting another over a Mountain Dew to criticize a 'Stand your Ground' law.
Apparently, Mr. O'Leary doesn't realize that a 14 year old carrying a weapon (concealed or openly) is ALREADY illegal and a 'Stand Your Ground' law would not change that fact.
To carry a firearm legally in West Virginia, (openly or concealed), one must be at least 18, or 21 for a concealed carry permit in most instances.
One would think that if such 'Stand Your Ground' laws were so detrimental to society as a whole that the facts would show that to be true. But they don't.
And that is where Mr. O'Leary's argument comes up short.

In Florida, home to the most gun permits in the country, firearm violence has fallen to the lowest point on record. ON RECORD.
Florida's firearm violent crime rate has dropped 33 percent between 2007 and 2011, while the number of issued concealed weapons permits rose nearly 90 percent during that time.

And even if one attempts to say that a connection between the lowering of violent crime and the issuing of more permits can't be proven, what CAN be proven is that the issuing of all those additional permits didn't cause an INCREASE in the rate of violent crime.
The statistics do show that to be the case.

Generally speaking, I don't share Mr. O'Leary's political positions.
I do enjoy reading his articles though, and this is my first time in responding.

Thanks for listening.

Sean O'Leary said...

Actually, in WV minors of any age may possess firearms with the permission of a parent or guardian. There is no requirement that the parent or guardian be present. The only other restriction placed on minors who have parental permission to possess firearms is that they may not carry the firearms onto the property of others without receiving permission to do so from the owner of that property. The relevant excerpt from the state code reads as follows, "a minor may possess a firearm upon premises owned by said minor or his family or on the premises of another with the permission of his or her parent or guardian and in the case of property other than his or her own or that of his family, with the permission of the owner or lessee of such property."

Given that most shootings happen in the homes of gun owners, where minors are allowed to possess firearms assuming that they have parental permission to do so, the scenario of the two fourteen year-olds described in the column is entirely plausible.

Anonymous said...

My point remains valid, Sean.
A 14 year old on his parents property, regardless of a 'Stand Your Ground' law, could shoot another teenager WITHOUT first getting his parents permission.
Or, a 14 year old could use one of his Mother's carving knives to protect his 'Mountain Dew'.
My point is that neither scenario is effected by a 'Stand Your Ground' law one way or the other.

In spite of the Chicken Little style scare tactics given by those who want a complete ban on firearms, the rate of gun murder is at its lowest point since at least 1981 at
3.6 per 100,000 people in 2010. The high point was 7 per 100,000 in 1993.
Federal data also shows that violent crimes committed with guns, including murders, aggravated assaults and robberies, have declined for three straight years.

Those are facts, not a dreamed up scenario of a 14 year old protecting his Mountain Dew.

Sean O'Leary said...

The scenario that I described and others are affected in two ways by Stand Your Ground laws, particularly the expanded version contained in the house bill. First, Stand Your Ground expands the circumstances in which justifiable homicide can be claimed, which should come as no surprise since that is the law's intention. This provision would apply to the scenario's taking of the Mountain Dew, a piece of moveable property. Second, the proposed bill, if it contains the provision noted in the Associated Press report, would also remove any requirement that the response to a perceived threat be proportional. This also would apply to the Mountain Dew scenario since most people I think would classify as excessive the taking someone else's life over a can of soda.

At the moment I don't have time to address the statistical points you make, but will come back to them in the next couple of days. Thanks for your comments.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for you reply, Sean.
The attempt to justify a made up scenario of a 14 year old claiming self defense based on the fear that another 14 year old was going to steal his Mountain Dew is preposterous.
One would think that you could come up with a better example, (perhaps a real life example), seeing as how other States do indeed now have a 'Stand Your Ground' law on the books.

Just last month, a Florida Task Force released a 44 page report showing that 'Stand Your Ground' laws are working in Florida.
The 19 member Task Force, which held meetings in 7 different Florida Cities, recommended that the 'Stand Your Ground' laws are working and should not be overturned.

Terry Williams said...

Concerning HB2580, search YouTube for: Publius Huldah Schools Tn AG on the Supremacy Clause

This attorney speaks on Nullification, and what the Founding Fathers meant when they wrote the Supremacy Clause into the Constitution.

Terry Williams said... v=32sOB8XpMM4&sns=em

Sean O'Leary said...

Thank you for the links to Publius Huldah, however I'll stand with the accepted understanding of the Constitution and the outcome of the Civil War, which put an end to the debate about states' ability to secede and nullify federal laws.

Anonymous said...

Neither the Civil War nor the 'current' understanding the the Constitution removes the 9th or 10th Amendments, Sean.

Sean O'Leary said...

Neither the 9th or 10th amendment changes the principle of judicial review and the power of the Supreme Court and not the states to determine what is and what is not constitutional.