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Charleston officials say House gun legislation ‘bad for city’

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Charleston's Republican mayor and Republican council president are concerned about a House bill that would override a 20-year-old city ordinance restricting gun purchases to one per person per month.  

Mayor Danny Jones and Council President Tom Lane realize they may be out of sync with party leaders on the state and national levels but say they must speak up for what they believe is right for the city.  

"We're not so much about philosophy on the city level," Jones said.

"I'm for Charleston. I'm on this earth for my kids and this city, and that's it."

The bill would be "bad for the city," Jones said. "This law will allow the flow of guns and drugs in and out of our city to increase."

House Bill 2558 would strip a grandfather clause from a 1999 law that prohibited cities and counties from restricting a wide array of gun rights.

Charleston had passed a law in 1993 limiting handgun purchases to one per person per month.    

The city ordinance also requires a 72-hour waiting period on a handgun purchase as well as background checks. It prohibits the purchase of a handgun by a person convicted of a felony and by someone deemed by a court to be mentally defective.

Charleston passed the ordinance because of a rash of gun violence in the city, Lane said. Lane, a lawyer, helped draft the bill, and shepherded its passage through council.

Six years later, the Legislature passed a law prohibiting councils and county commissions from enforcing gun restrictions on gun sales and ownership that were not consistent with existing state law.

However, it included a grandfather clause for cities that already had enacted gun ordinances.

The current bill would repeal that grandfather clause, thus prohibiting Charleston from enforcing its gun ordinance.  

The bill has been endorsed by the House Political Subdivisions Committee and advanced to the Judiciary Committee.

Jones thinks there is support in the House for a firearms bill.

"I look for some sort of bill to pass the House," he said. "We'll have to wait and see what it looks like."

Jones is not sure such a bill would make it through the state Senate.

Nevertheless, he would oppose any move to strip the city of the power to regulate gun purchases within its borders.  

"I have a strategy to oppose this, but I don't want to discuss what that strategy is," he said.

 The city's ordinance was enacted because drug dealers from larger cities were coming to Charleston to purchase firearms, which were cheaper here, Lane said.

The drug dealers would take the guns back to their hometowns, where they could be sold at a significant markup, Jones said.

Meanwhile, the drugs sold by the dealers fetched higher prices in Charleston than in their home cities, he said.

Jones believes this situation would recur if the city lost its right to enforce the ordinance.

"I'm not against the Second Amendment," the mayor added. "I think people should be able to own guns.

"But I also think that local governments should be able to enforce reasonable regulations."  

Lane also opposes the bill.  

"If this bill stripped away our ordinance, I'd be afraid that Charleston would again find itself as the hub of a renewed guns-for-drugs trade," he said.

Lane said political philosophies are not so rigid on the local level.

"I disagree with the extreme right wing of the Republican Party in many cases, and this is one of them," he said. "I don't believe this should be a Republican/Democrat issue."

Attempts to reach the bill's sponsor, Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley, were unsuccessful.

Delegate Mark Hunt, D-Kanawha and chairman of the House Political Subdivisions Committee, thinks his panel endorsed the bill because lawmakers want uniform gun laws across the state.  

He said some counties and cities attempted to pass their own gun laws after the state passed the 1999 law that prohibited them from doing so.

One was Martinsburg in Berkeley County, he said. Overington represents Berkeley County.

"You have these cities and counties saying that Charleston has a gun ordinance, why can't we," Hunt said.

Such ordinances were taken before circuit courts and the 1999 legislation was upheld, he said.

"I think the overwhelming goal of the people who introduced this bill was to clean up the perception that because Charleston has a gun ordinance that other cities and counties can pass gun ordinances, too," Hunt said.

Another reason for the bill's support in the Legislature is because Cabela's, a large new store in one of the Corridor G shopping developments, sells guns. It is losing sales because it lies within Charleston's borders and must adhere to the city's ordinance, he said.

"But then you have people that can go right across the street and fill their trunks up with guns," Hunt said.

Nearby Walmart, which also sells gun, lies mostly within the city of South Charleston.  

Hunt said he did not have an overwhelming desire to support or oppose the bill. However, he thought it was his duty as chairman to put it up for a vote.

The committee passed it with no discussion and no opposing votes, he said.

"And there are some urban areas represented in that committee," Hunt said.

However, Hunt is not convinced the full House will pass the bill.

"I'm not sure if this bill has legs or not," Hunt said. "I suspect that it does not."     

At least 20 gun-related bills are pending in the Legislature this session, Hunt estimated.          

Jones and Lane also are concerned about House Bill 2504 that would make it a felony for U.S. law enforcement officials to enforce federal gun laws when the firearm, firearm accessory or ammunition is made or owned in West Virginia and remains exclusively within the state's borders.

Any federal law enforcement official or employee could face a five-year prison term and $5,000 fine upon conviction if the bill were passed and signed by the governor and its provisions were acted upon.

The bill would also prohibit any "public officer or employee of the state, county or municipality" from enforcing federal gun laws. The bill is in the House Judiciary Committee.  

Lane called the bill "irresponsible."

Jones believes this measure is a move by the National Rifle Association to circumvent federal law in the state.

"I don't really care about the NRA," Jones said.

The bill's lead sponsor is Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo. Marcum said the bill would protect law-abiding gun owners in the state.

When asked if he envisioned local officers being forced to arrest federal officers, Marcum said it would depend on how the bill was written at final passage stage.  

"That's not the intent," Marcum said. "The intent of the bill is to protect our citizens."

Another sponsor, Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, also said the intent was not to force local officers to arrest federal officers.

"I'm sure if we put enough people in a room together, we could come up with something," Skaff said of altering the bill to avoid that effect.  

Lane was astonished to hear of the bill.

"I think it is wrong for any state lawmaker to suggest we not abide by federal law," he said.

Jones said politicians are trying to garner votes.

"I disagree with that," he said.

He acknowledged that his stance on the gun issue could put him at odds with fellow Republicans and citizens in what has become known as a strong gun state.

"But this isn't about me; it's about what I believe is right," he said.

Lane echoed Jones' sentiments.

"I don't think my individual career is an issue here," Lane said. "If I sacrifice my political career in doing what I believe is right, then so be it."      

Contact writer Paul Fallon at paul.fallon@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817. Follow him at www.twitter.com/PaulBFallon.

 


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