Picketers turn out for right to carry arms

November 18, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |
  • l-r: Jim Miller, holding a flag, Art Thomm, center, and Travis Bishop joined with others Friday in Martinsburg to express their support of gun owners' rights.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — About a dozen gun enthusiasts picketed Friday afternoon in front of Blue Ridge Community and Technical College, but their real target was Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely.

Friday's picketers, all of whom wore guns, openly and concealed, belong to the West Virginia Citizens Defense League, a legislative lobbying group. They contend that the Second Amendment and West Virginia law gives them the right to carry guns on college and university campuses.

The issue stemmed from the October arrest of Joshua Lee Beck, 26, a Blue Ridge Community and Technical College student and former Martinsburg correctional officer, who allegedly repeatedly violated the school's rules limiting the possession of firearms on campus.

A sign on the school's main entrance reads: "No firearms or weapons allowed on this property."

West Virginia law bans guns from elementary, secondary and vocational technical schools, but it's vague on banning them at colleges and universities, Games-Neely said.

Games-Neely said she had to reduce the felony charges against Beck to misdemeanors because higher education institutions are not specifically included in the law banning possession of deadly weapons. She sent a letter asking state legislators to review and strengthen the law so guns can be banned from campuses. Exemptions would be made for ROTC and other special training programs and events, she said.

Art Thomm, 34, of Martinsburg, a West Virginia Citizens Defense League spokesman, said Friday that if he walked armed into Blue Ridge Community and Technical College and was stopped by a security guard or sworn campus police officer, "I would tell the officer that he was wrong, that he didn't know the law. If I went in anyway, I could not be arrested for carrying a gun, only for trespassing."

He said his group chose to picket the school Friday "because it's open today."

Thomm had said Thursday that he expected about 275 people to picket at Friday's event. He didn't give a reason for the lower turnout.

Thomm had a Glock .45-caliber semiautomatic strapped to his side.

He said he wears his gun openly or concealed most of the time "even in church. I carry it to protect myself, my family and if I witness someone committing a felony against a citizen. The law says I can meet force with equal force."

Travis Bishop, owner of Tannerman's Trading Company, a local gun shop, said he carries a gun to protect himself and his family from harm. The Second Amendment gives him the right to carry guns anywhere with no restrictions, he said.

"We're here today to promote the right to carry guns openly and concealed and to protect our Second Amendment rights," he said. "We're here today so Pam can see the error of her ways."

Slogans on the picketers' signs included "Repeal Neely," "Pam Neely is afraid to sit next to you," "Armed Society Safer Society" and "Love your freedom? Thank a gun."

Thomm and Games-Neely are certified National Rifle Association firearms instructors.

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