Morrisey vows to challenge federal gun control measures
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Thursday he plans to fight any new federal laws that ban assault weapons.
Congressional Democrats, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, unveiled legislation Thursday that targets 158 specific weapons in the wake of last month's school shootings in Newton, Conn.
"If a federal law is enacted that is similar to Senator Feinstein's legislation, the West Virginia Attorney General's office would actively participate in legal efforts to ensure that such law does not infringe upon the rights of West Virginians," Morrisey said in a statement. "These efforts may include a wide range of legal and educational actions."
Morrisey, a Republican who replaced longtime Attorney General Darrell McGraw on Jan. 14, has set up an "Office of Federalism" to challenge federal laws and policies that he believes have a "tenuous nexus to law or the U.S. and West Virginia constitutions."
Morrisey has hired a solicitor general -- Washington, D.C., lawyer Elbert Lin -- to head the new office. Lin starts work in West Virginia next month
On Thursday, Morrisey said federal restrictions on buying specific guns and rifles raises "serious constitutional concerns" under a 2008 Supreme Court ruling that struck down parts of the District of Columbia's strict gun-control law.
"When talking about an issue as important as gun control and our Second Amendment rights, it's critical that West Virginians have all the facts about the proposals being put forth," Morrisey said. "As attorney general, one of my jobs is to serve as a voice to fight crime, but I must also ensure that any actions taken by the federal government comport with both the West Virginia and United States constitutions."
Morrisey said he's also reviewing President Obama's executive actions on gun control. Obama signed 23 directives on Jan. 16.
Morissey said only four of Obama's executive measures have been implemented -- and those simply require federal officials to enforce existing laws.
Morrisey questioned one of Obama's executive actions requiring the federal Centers for Disease Control to research gun violence. Morrisey said he wants more details.
"I want to make sure that the agency does not violate its statutory prohibition on using federal funding to advocate or promote gun control," said Morrisey. "We must ensure that basic research is not colored by politics, and that federal statutes are not ignored."
Morrisey also wants details about an Obama executive action that addresses mental health services. Morrisey said "new mental health care requirements on states" could violate the U.S. Constitution's spending clause. He said West Virginia and other states shouldn't be "coerced" into funding such programs.
"Let me be clear," Morrisey said. "Addressing mental health care system deficiencies is an important priority. However, in West Virginia, we will not easily accept unfunded mandates that burden our state budget regardless of the perceived desirability of the policy goal."
Morrisey said he already has discussed proposed gun control laws and Obama's executive actions with fellow attorneys general in other states. Several senior aides in Morrisey's office also are keeping a close watch on federal assault weapons' ban proposals, he said.
"My office will continue to analyze these important issues, and discuss them with state attorneys general, so that we can properly preserve the rights of law-abiding West Virginians to own firearms," Morrisey said.
Morrisey also was asked whether he would support West Virginia schools as "gun-free zones," and whether he believes teachers and security personnel should be allowed to carry weapons on campus.
"Some individuals have proposed spending more money to address school security issues," he said. "On a personal level, I will need to be convinced about the effectiveness of any proposal that spends precious taxpayer resources before I commit to supporting it."
Morrisey said he would keep an "open mind" about any measures designed to stop mass shootings like the tragedy that claimed the lives of 20 students and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"In my opinion, root causes of violence are broad-based," he said. "Cultural factors, socio-economic conditions and mental health treatment systems must all be addressed in order to make meaningful progress to reduce violence."
Reach Eric Eyre at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4869.