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In Spite Of Marches, WV Expanding Gun Rights

Del. Mike Pushkin is a gun owner but spoke at the gun-control rally in Charleston on Saturday. (Rafael Barker)
Del. Mike Pushkin is a gun owner but spoke at the gun-control rally in Charleston on Saturday. (Rafael Barker)
March 26, 2018

CHARLESTOWN, W.Va. – Although more than a million and a half people around the country rallied for tighter gun laws last weekend, West Virginia has been moving in the opposite direction.

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, the student-led March For Our Lives sparked more than 750 events nationwide. But Gov. Jim Justice has just signed one bill expanding gun rights into law, and is considering another.

Delegate Mike Pushkin says the state does have a long tradition of hunting and gun ownership. But he says the issue also has regularly been used against Democrats.

"We might be the only state whose college mascot actually carries a gun, and that's fine," he says. "But I think this issue has often been used in West Virginia as a way to get working-class people to vote against their own best interests."

Gun-rights advocates say the spirit of the rifle-carrying WVU Mountaineer fits the rural state. And for the record, Oklahoma State's mascot, Pistol Pete, has guns in his holsters.

Pushkin's a cab driver and has a permit to carry a pistol, which he says he often does. But he says he also opposed parts of the two gun bills that passed the Legislature this year. One - just signed into law - will allow employees to keep firearms locked in their vehicles at work, and says their employer can't ask about them. The other bill - still awaiting the governor's decision - would forbid city rec centers from banning guns. Pushkin says both go too far.

"Common sense tells me, an employer should be able to ask an employee if they have a gun in the car," says Pushkin. "A director of a day-care center should be able to ask people not to bring guns around the children in the rec center."

Pushkin says many responsible gun owners like him favor more limits on firearms. He says a lot of gun rhetoric is overheated. He says gun-free zones at schools, churches and businesses don't make them targets for attack, and he points to the state Capitol, where arguments like that are often made.

"The general public has to walk through metal detectors to get into our Capitol," he notes. Why would we make that a gun-free zone? If it's good enough to protect people like me and other folks in the Legislature, it should also be good enough to protect our children."

Pushkin says in spite of the rhetoric, no one is trying to confiscate people's firearms.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV