A bill before the West Virginia Legislature adds county magistrates and municipal court judges to the list of those in occupations not needing a license to carry a concealed weapon, and local magistrates say it's "a good idea."
House Bill 2552, introduced by Del. Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock, has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
Current law excludes working law enforcement officers from needing a concealed carry license, as well as employees of the West Virginia Division of Corrections, active duty military personnel, circuit judges, prosecuting attorneys, assistant prosecuting attorneys or investigators employed by prosecuting attorneys.
Magistrates contacted said they also should be exempt from the need for a concealed carry license.
"It provides us the means to protect ourselves," said Ohio County Magistrate Joe Roxby, who also is a retired Wheeling police officer. "We are out here at all hours of the night with criminals. There are no baliffs or security here at that time, and you're sitting across the table from each other. ... It's a very common sense thing. ... Nobody is going to protect you like you do yourself. You have a vested interest."
He added that when attending his freshman orientation class for new magistrates in 2009, "probably three-fourths of the class" were former law enforcement agents who already carried concealed weapons.
"This is not a case of people not familiar with firearms and confrontation," Roxby said.
Marshall County Magistrate David Buzzard is not a former law enforcement officer, but he is a military veteran. He believes magistrates should be able to carry a gun if they wish.
"The reason is obvious," he said. "We are continually dealing with some dangerous people and emotionally disturbed people - and sometimes we have to come out in the middle of the night."
Swartzmiller said since most magistrates are retired law enforcement officers, many already have a concealed carry license and his measure would simply exempt them from paying for their permit.
"They tell me, 'An assistant prosecutor can carry a gun without license, we feel like we're in this system, too," Swartzmiller said. "It's not so much about having a gun, but not paying for a permit."
He noted that a number of other weapons-related bills are coming before the Legislature, including one introduced by House Speaker Richard Thompson, D-Wayne, that unanimously passed the House Friday. HB 2471 would prohibit the restriction of "otherwise lawful possession, use, carrying, transportation, transfer, display or storage of a firearm or ammunition" during a declared state of emergency.
"What prompted this was Hurricane Katrina," Swartzmiller said. "They told residents during the state of emergency, 'You can't carry your guns, go lock them up.' But with all the looting going on, that's when people needed them."
Swartzmiller, speaker pro tempore in the House, said he doesn't expect the House to pass any measures that infringe on gun owners' rights.
"I'm an avid hunter, and I carry a concealed weapon. And the speaker - no one hunts or has as many guns as he does," he said, noting House Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, also is a gun owner and hunter. "The top three people in the House are all carriers of guns, and all sportsmen. Like everyone else, we want to make sure gun rights are protected."