CHARLESTON — Two West Virginia lawmakers are calling for "red flags" to limit certain people from being able to purchase firearms after mass shootings in Ohio and Texas while a group of Republican delegates pledged to defend Second Amendment rights.
"Having sworn an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this State, we will abide by that oath in spite of short-sighted and temporary political pressures," the Republicans said.
Delegates Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, and John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said in a press release Aug. 7 they plan to draft a bill for the 2020 regular session of the West Virginia Legislature convening in January to create extreme risk protection orders, also known as a red flag law.
Fleischauer and Doyle joined lawmakers from 25 states at a press conference Aug. 7 on the steps of the Tennessee statehouse in Nashville calling for red flag laws and other gun control measures. The two West Virginia lawmakers are in Nashville for the summer meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Red flag laws allow law enforcement to petition to have firearms removed from a person who may pose a risk to themselves or the public.
"We are used to the idea of a domestic violence protection order," Fleischauer said. "Extreme risk protection orders would allow a similar protection order when a judge finds that someone poses a risk of harm of violence to themselves or others."
Fleischauer and Doyle also plan to introduce legislation for universal background checks. While federal legislation tightening background checks is sitting in the U.S. Senate, Doyle said states can't wait.
"There are too many loopholes that allow dangerous people to obtain firearms, including those who might harm themselves," Doyle said.
On Aug. 3, at least 22 people were killed when a gunman opened fire in a Wal-Mart in El Paso, Texas. According to law enforcement, the suspect held anti-immigration and white supremacist views.
The next day in Dayton, another gunman killed nine people. While it does not appear the Dayton gunman had a political motivation, law enforcement said he was interested in mass shootings.
"I am deeply concerned with the dramatic increase in mass shootings," Doyle said. "I believe this is partly the result of our society being less tolerant of those who are different, both in thought and appearance."
The statement from Fleischauer and Doyle didn't sit well with one Republican lawmaker, showing that any effort to push gun control reforms through the legislature could be a difficult task.
"I will oppose any and all 'red flag' laws or expansion to gun laws," Delegate Joe Jeffries, R-Putnam, said Aug. 7. "I wasn't even going to give in to all the hype on the gun control measures, as most already know where I stand. However, I couldn't be silent after this ridiculous release."
Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates and Senate have made a number of reforms since 2014 to make it easier to access firearms.
The state passed constitutional carry legislation in 2016 eliminated the requirement to have a concealed carry permit. A law passed in 2018 protects citizens from being fired for keeping firearms in their vehicles on workplace property.
In February, the House passed House Bill 2519, the Campus Self Defense Act. The bill allowed students to carry handguns at colleges and universities as long as they have a valid concealed weapon permit, but included exemptions for organized events, stadiums and arenas with more than 1,000 attendees. The bill passed 59-41, but never made it out of the Senate.
Jeffries said that the laws being proposed by Congress and by Fleischauer and Doyle do nothing to prevent mass shootings.
"No law would've prevented these more recent shootings or most others either," Jeffries said. "Only law-abiding citizens are hurt by further regulations. Criminals have no desire to live by the law of the land, otherwise we wouldn't have all these acts of violence now. Criminals will always find a way to commit their acts of violence no matter the laws put in place to prevent them."
On Aug. 8, Jeffries and other Republican delegates in the House issued a statement pledging to protect the Second Amendment.
"Legislators calling for 'red flag' laws are preying upon the fear generated by the actions of madmen that would carry out their acts regardless of any laws this state would enact. What is clear to us is the breakdown of the family will not be overcome by well-intentioned but misplaced legislation that does nothing to solve the core issues that lead to these tragedies," the delegates said. "The call for 'red flag' laws denies the real problem and attacks honest, law-abiding citizens. West Virginia has a large veteran population that cannot be discouraged from seeking help by laws that would disproportionately strip them of the rights they have sacrificed so much to defend. We stand firm in our convictions to defend our constitutional rights and uphold the freedoms of all the people of West Virginia."
The initial list of Republican delegates making the pledging was amended to add more lawmakers, including Delegate John Kelly of Wood County. The delegates, in addition to Jeffries and Kelly, are Tom Bibby of Berkeley, Jim Butler of Mason, Scott Cadle of Mason, Roy Cooper of Summers, Mark Dean of Mingo, Tom Fast of Fayette, John Paul Hott of Grant, Gary Howell of Mineral, Eric Householder of Berkeley. Kayla Kessinger of Fayette, Larry Kump of Berkeley, Sharon Malcolm of Kanawha, John Mandt of Cabell, Carl "Robbie" Martin of Upshur, Patrick Martin of Lewis, Zack Maynard of Lincoln, Pat McGeehan of Hancock, Chris Phillips of Barbour, Eric Porterfield of Mercer, Brandon Steele of Raleigh, Terry Waxman of Harrison, Marshall Wilson of Berkeley, Evan Worrell of Cabell and Majority Leader Amy Summers of Taylor,
"The recognition and protection of the most basic natural right - the right of self-defense - is enshrined in the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution and in Article III, Section 22 of the Constitution of West Virginia," the delegates said. "We will not abandon these guarantees of individual liberty in the pursuit of hollow 'solutions' that will not solve the current issue, much less guarantee freedom to the generations that will follow us."
The Republicans said they will join in "thoughtful consideration of any serious proposals to combat the evil acts plaguing our nation," but quoted Benjamin Franklin who said "Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.'