CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia's 81st Legislature approved seven measures related to guns, more than in the previous four sessions combined.
Lawmakers introduced more firearm bills -- 37, including a home rule bill with gun provisions -- than previous years. But it wasn't significantly more than the average 30 introduced in the previous five sessions, according to the Legislature's website.
The December massacre of 20 school children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and the national response to the tragedy played a significant role in keeping some gun bills at the forefront of the legislative calendar.
"I'm sure that the shooting up there prompted a lot of that . . . and the potential for national gun legislation," said Sen. Dan Hall, D-Wyoming. "And it's sad an event like that would create this big debate, but that's just reality."
Hall sponsored six different gun-related bills. He's sponsored gun legislation before, but he agreed the push for such bills was bigger this year.
Most legislators supported the measures that passed both chambers. Delegate Danny Wells, D-Kanawha, did not. He spoke against bills that would loosen restrictions on firearms, sometimes casting the lone dissenting vote for a measure.
"There's always also the anti-Obama issue that came into play. The backlash though, I'm just shocked . . ." Wells said Saturday night. "I would have thought there would have been more thought on gun safety after Sandy Hook. Instead it kind of went the other way."
Delegate Eric Householder -- a Berkeley County Republican whose license plate reads "T PARTY" -- thought it would be a little easier to get gun bills through the Legislature this year. He blamed inaction in the Senate, adding he was happy with the measures that made it through.
Of the seven bills passed, Hall said three were in the National Rifle Association's top four list of priorities. He couldn't remember what they were off the top of his head, but he said the NRA supported measures related to reciprocity for concealed carry permits and preventing the state from taking guns in the case of a declared emergency.
Keith Morgan is director of the West Virginia Citizens Defense League, a group similar to the NRA. He agreed the two bills were steps in the right direction but was still upset about the Senate not taking up a bill that would have voided all city gun laws.
"It could have been worse," Morgan said, referring to the legislative session. "The most successful part of this is that we had exposed anti-gun politicians in this state, and people are starting to realize Colorado could happen here."
He didn't clarify what he meant by "Colorado."
House Bill 2471 passed both chambers without anyone voting against the measure; proponents say it was created after law enforcement seized weapons in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
The Legislature already passed a law that made such seizures illegal, but the newest legislation also prevents the state from regulating the transportation of those guns during such emergencies.
"I wonder really how necessary that is. But I'm glad we got it. But I don't ever know if something would happen in West Virginia," Hall said, calling the measure a "signal bill."
Many legislators were also happy with the "preemption" measure that was included in a bill related to expanding local control. Although the House overwhelmingly passed a bill voiding all city gun ordinances, the Senate didn't act on the measure.
A late play by Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, amended a bill continuing the Home Rule Pilot Project. The bill forces any city with gun ordinances to repeal the measures if it wishes to remain in the local control program.