Death Threats, Guns, Race and Gender in West Virginia

West Virginia Delegate Saira Blair (R-Berkeley), at 19 the youngest legislator in the country and a rising star in national conservative circles, took to the floor of the House of Delegates last week to push for legislation she co-sponsored (HB 4145) that would allow, for the first time, 18 to 21 year olds to carry a concealed weapon with a permit and would allow people over 21 years to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.

“I’m the only person standing in this chamber in the 18 to 21 year old age period,” Blair said on the floor of the House of Delegates.  “I can currently not get a permit to carry, and I’ll tell you right now, I am scared. I’ve received multiple death threats in the past year. I am scared. I’m not going to stop what I do on a daily basis. I’m not going to stop going to the mall, I’m not going to stop going to the movies, and I’m not going to stop going to church because of it, but I would feel safer as a law abiding citizen if I knew that I was able to protect myself.”

The bill passed the House 68 to 31.

After the vote, we rang up Blair to ask her — were the death threats against her racially motivated? (Blair says her mother’s father is African American.)

“No sir they were not,” Blair says. “They were more gender motivated and they were related to the issues.”

People were upset that you are a female in office?

“Yes. And they were unhappy with the way that I voted,” Blair said.

Liberal people unhappy with your conservative views?

“I would imagine,” Blair said.

But don’t liberal people generally want more women in office?

“I agree,” she said.

Were the threats coming from conservative people saying they didn’t want a young woman in office?

“I haven’t talked to them,” Blair said. “They would send emails — they don’t really detail who they are. I would just get emails from an anonymous sender. They are not going to give me information about who they are or anything like that.”

Did you report the death threats to the police?

“No sir,” she said. “I never felt like I was in harm.”

Do you consider yourself African American?

“I see it as part of my heritage,” Blair said. “I have never thought about it, to be honest. I guess now — I do not.”

While Blair might not consider herself an African American, the policies she supports disproportionately and adversely affect the African American community.

For example, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black Americans are more than twice as likely to die from gun violence than whites.

According to the study, between 2000 and 2010 the death rate due to firearm-related injuries was more than 18.5 per 100,000 among blacks, but only nine per 100,000 among whites.

And Blair supports HB 4013, which would require West Virginians to show valid photo identification at the polls.

One study showed that significantly more minority youths age 18-29 were asked to show identification than white youth — 72.9 percent of black youth were asked for ID, compared with 60.8 percent of Latino youth and 50.8 percent of white youth.

Blair also supports legislation that would require drug testing of welfare recipients. (The bill (SB6) has passed the Senate and is scheduled to be considered in the House.)

“Those on public assistance should not be allowed to abuse what’s provided to them by state taxpayers,” Blair said in campaign materials last year.

But Delegate Sean Hornbuckle (D-Cabell) — one of three African American members of the West Virginia legislature (along with Clif Moore (D-McDowell) and Jill Upson (R-Jefferson)) — opposes the voter ID, concealed carry and drug testing legislation.

Hornbuckle said he wouldn’t support the drug testing of welfare recipients legislation unless his colleagues also pass legislation to drug test legislators and corporate welfare recipients.

“Are we above the law?” Hornbuckle asked. “Let’s drug test legislators and corporate welfare recipients too. People need to understand that a lot of folks receive corporate welfare too. If we are going to drug test welfare recipients, let’s drug test everybody receiving government dollars. I’m not for preying on poor people. Those who support drug testing of just welfare recipients are just trying to pick on a certain group of people.”

A bill to drug test legislators (HB 2925) introduced by Delegate Shawn Fluharty (D-Ohio), didn’t make it out of the House Judiciary Committee last month.

“I think the public expects us to adhere to the rules that we try to legislate,” Fluharty said last month. “We have 134 people down here and we should be on their dime living within the standards that we implement. There’s no reason we shouldn’t do it. It’s not going to cost the taxpayers any more money because we’re going to pay for it ourselves.”

“If you ask the average person on the street, ‘Should we drug test welfare recipients?’, they’ll say, ‘Yes.’, he said.  “If you ask them, ‘Should we drug test state legislators?’, they’ll say, ‘Yes.’ There’s no reason why state legislators should get a pass, simply because we wear suits.”

Hornbuckle said that the reason he opposed the concealed carry legislation was because law enforcement in his district universally opposed it.

“No law enforcement was for this bill,” Hornbuckle said. “When it comes to safety, I’m going to listen to the police.”

And Hornbuckle said that the voter ID law would not just drive down voter turnout among minorities, but also among the elderly — who studies show have the most trouble with voter ID. (Before voting on the voter ID legislation, West Virginia legislators should check out John Oliver’s segment this week on the hypocrisy of voter ID Laws.)

Russell Mokhiber is the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter..