CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Charleston Mayor Danny Jones wonders if members of the House of Delegates bothered to read the bill they passed on Monday repealing the city's handgun purchasing restrictions.
Jones said the bill, if it becomes law, would require cities to allow gun stores to set up shop in any residential neighborhood if the city already has carved out a zoning exception for another business.
He said the legislation also would allow citizens and out-of-state organizations to sue the city over any perceived violation of state gun laws. If the city would lose the lawsuit, taxpayers would be required to pick up the tab for all related expenses.
House members on Tuesday voted 94 to 4, with two members absent, to pass a bill that would eliminate a grandfather clause that had allowed the gun or ammunition restrictions of some state municipalities to stand.
Jones says Charleston's gun restrictions, which limit customers to one handgun purchase per month with a 72-hour waiting period, have reduced crime in the city since it was passed two decades ago.
The city's ordinance doesn't apply to hunting rifles.
He said the city passed the restriction in 1993 to prevent out-of-state drug dealers from selling their product in Charleston and then using that cash to purchase weapons, which they would take back home and sell.
Jones said the city's crime rate and drug problem likely would get worse if the handgun restriction disappeared.
However, he is more concerned about a provision in House Bill 2760 that would allow any person who believes their Second Amendment rights have been infringed by a municipality to take the city to court.
The law also would allow organizations, such as the National Rifle Association, to sue the city on its members' behalf if the organization believes the city has violated any state gun law.
Jones said if the city should lose a gun case, the law would required the city to pay all the plaintiff's costs, including attorney fees, expert witness fees, court costs and compensation for lost income.
There is no provision in the bill, however, to reimburse cities for court expenses if they should win a lawsuit.
"It's a free ride for the plaintiff," he said.
Jones also said the bill would require cities to allow gun stores to set up in any neighborhood where they previously had carved out a zoning exemption for another small business. Jones said that could affect neighborhoods where lawyers run practices from home or someone had set up a hair salon in a house.
"According to this bill a gun store can go in right next to them," Jones said. "That's how we interpret this.
"When a gun store rises up on the West Side somewhere in a residence, or in some other part of our city . . . and we can't do a thing about it, that, to me, is the most frightening part of this bill."
Jones said he believes most delegates did not know these provisions were in the legislation when they voted for it. He thinks many Democrats supported the bill because they are worried about the recent influx of Republicans in the House and don't want to risk losing more seats in the 2014 election.
"This (bill) is written by the NRA," he said. "This is a political problem for the Democrats because the NRA has always had the Republicans, and the Democrats have seen their numbers decrease dramatically."
Delegate Rupert Phillips, D-Logan, said he does not believe Democrats supported the bill only to preempt a Republican groundswell.
"I represent the majority of the people of the 24th district. The majority of the people wants me on every pro-gun bill, every pro-coal bill and every bill that's against drugs," he said.
Phillips said HB 2760 is meant only to make everyone equal across the state.