Updated Wednesday, March 24, 2021 at 12:30 a.m.
Following two mass shootings in the United States in the past week, a West Virginia Senate committee tackled an agenda focused exclusively on guns.
During a Tuesday meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, lawmakers advanced four pieces of legislation related to reinforcing the Second Amendment of the U. S. Constitution and other aspects of gun rights.
Last week, a gunman killed eight people — six of whom were women of Asian descent — in and around Atlanta, Georgia. On Monday, 10 people were killed, including a police officer, when a gunman opened fire inside of a Boulder, Colorado grocery store.
President Joe Biden called Tuesday for Congress to act in the wake of those shootings, urging lawmakers to pass bans on automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines.
Over the course of Tuesday’s hour-plus meeting, lawmakers on the West Virginia Senate’s Judiciary Committee made no mention of the recent acts of gun violence in the nation.
Committee members spent most of their time considering Senate Joint Resolution 1, a proposed constitutional amendment that would restrict localities from enacting regulations on guns that would be more strict than state code.
The measure, if approved by the Legislature and, later, the voting public, would add to the West Virginia Constitution to limit local regulation of firearms ammunition, and firearms accessories.
As a joint resolution, the proposal would require a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and House before going to a vote of the general public in November 2022.
Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, moved to postpone consideration of the resolution indefinitely and effectively kill the measure. That motion failed on a voice vote.
“A constitutional amendment is just superfluous in this instance,” Romano said as he asked for the proposed constitutional amendment to be reformed into a bill.
But Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Trump, R-Morgan, ruled Romano’s second motion was not germane.
Art Thomm, who told the committee he represents the “hundreds of thousands of NRA members” in West Virginia, answered questions from members about the resolution. He used Virginia as an example of a state passing gun control legislation in recent years and said this proposal would prevent any such legislation from being enacted here.
“The state of Virginia, for example, has always been a very, very gun-friendly state until most recently,” Thomm said. “Now, they’re passing every anti-gun law that they can salivate to get to the podium — they’re doing it. And I believe what this is seeking to do is to ensure that that never happens here in the state of West Virginia.”
Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion spoke against Senate Joint Resolution 1.
Caputo noted that recent changes to Virginia’s gun laws focused on allowing school boards to ban guns on school property, increasing the time state police would have to complete a background check, among other proposals he deemed as “reasonable.”
“I’m not anti-gun. I own guns and come from a family of hunters,” Caputo said. “But I do think sometimes reasonable measures must be taken. If these are the things we are looking to prevent, I can’t be a part of that.”
Sen. Rupie Phillips, R-Logan, told committee members he supported the proposed constitutional amendment.
“On election night, when the governor got control of the House and Senate in Virginia, he made some very hard comments about going after the guns,” Phillips said. “So, I think this is a very good opportunity for us to, again, stand our ground for our Second Amendment rights.”
Senate Joint Resolution 1 passed the committee on a voice vote.
The committee also originated and advanced a concurrent resolution that urges congress and the president to “protect the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
In addition, lawmakers advanced Senate Bill 458, which would prevent the suspension or limitation of firearms or ammunition sales during a state of emergency declared by the federal or state government. Senate Bill 419 — which synchronizes state and federal code to allow antique firearms to be possessed by those who are otherwise not permitted to possess a firearm — also cleared the committee Tuesday.
All three of those proposals quickly passed the committee with little to no discussion.
Following Tuesday’s meeting, Trump told West Virginia Public Broadcasting the decision to run the gun rights legislation Tuesday in the aftermath of recent mass shootings was purely coincidental and that it hinged on looming legislative deadlines.
“Anytime there’s a loss of life, it’s a great tragedy. But we have a 60-day session and we’re in the final third of it now,” Trump said. “We’re actually in the last week when we can consider Senate bills in the Senate. So, if we don’t consider them this week, they’re lost.”
The last day for each chamber to consider a bill in its house of origin is Wednesday, March 31. The regular session ends Saturday, April 10 at midnight.
This story has been updated to reflect the committee substitute for Senate Joint Resolution 1.