Lawmakers decry threats over gun legislation
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia legislative leaders are denouncing a handful of possible threats targeting lawmakers since the Senate received a House-passed measure last week that would repeal gun control ordinances in four cities around the state.
Senate Government Organization Chairman Herb Snyder on Monday said his office has received around 10 phone calls and three emails that he believed crossed a line.
"They said, 'We're going to drive by your house,'" the Jefferson County Democrat said. "Another one was, 'If the bill doesn't pass, you won't go home from Charleston.' It's quite threatening."
Snyder said these messages have been among hundreds fielded by his office and others urging immediate passage of the House repeal bill.
"It's been a voluminous number of calls, pro-gun calls, but some of them are quite nasty and a small amount of them are threatening," Snyder said. "I mostly feel bad for my staff and other senators' staff."
Information about these contacts was provided to Capitol Police on Thursday, Snyder said. Deputy Director Kevin Foreman, the department spokesman, said the matter is under investigation but declined to comment Friday.
Senate President Jeff Kessler said he had not fielded any threats firsthand but decried such tactics.
"Historically, that has not been a productive way to get things done around here. I won't tolerate it," said Kessler, a Marshall County Democrat. "People can participate in the process, but there's a right way to communicate with your elected officials and there's a wrong way. Threats will get you nowhere."
Groups lobbying for the repeal bill include the West Virginia Citizens Defense League. The league does not condone the sort of conduct alleged by Snyder, President Keith Morgan said.
"The membership of the WVCDL is smart enough to understand that the only people who benefit from such behavior are gun control advocates," Morgan said in an email. "We advise our membership to respectfully voice their opinion and urge passage of pro-gun legislation."
The league's website lists Capitol office numbers for Kessler, Snyder and Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, whose committee has also been assigned the bill, while urging supporters to press for its passage.
"What we need now is ferocity. The House was a challenge, but the Senate will be more so," the website said. It also said, "Be polite, but firm and call, call, call!!!"
Morgan said his group is also organizing protests and rallies in Charleston and Charles Town - part of the districts represented by Palumbo, D-Kanawha, and Snyder. Both lawmakers have made statements opposing the repeal bill, he said. Morgan also said he's unaware of any attempts by law enforcement to contact his group.
Snyder said some bill supporters may not understand that the Senate is focusing on its own bills ahead of an April 3 deadline to pass them to the House.
"We're not running House bills yet," Snyder said. "Everybody needs to take a deep breath and let the process work."