Jones blasts details in House gun legislation
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.
"They can twist it any way they want, it is what it is. I think it's pretty loud, how the votes went down today," he said. "This sets it to where the legislative body can put the ordinances in, cities and counties can't."
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said he is concerned the bill would repeal ordinances that prohibit individuals from carrying weapons in county parks and at Yeager Airport.
Both restrictions are county ordinances, which apparently would be affected by the legislation.
"On this issue I support Mayor Jones," he said.
"I appreciate the fact there's a Second Amendment, I appreciate that, but there are some places it seems you shouldn't be carrying a weapon," Carper said. "An airport, a county park where children are playing . . . I would think that would be a concern."
The bill now will head to the state Senate, where it likely will be assigned to the judiciary and government organization committees.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, said he is not sure how the bill would fare in his committee.
"I don't like it," he said.
Palumbo said many bills this session strive to give more power to local government, citing both Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education reform bill and a home rule bill that seeks to give municipalities more freedom in setting taxes and regulations.
Palumbo said this gun legislation is taking "the exact opposite direction." He said if Charleston residents don't like the municipal gun restriction, they should petition their elected city council.
"I don't think they should come to Big Brother," he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam, expressed similar concerns.
"It seems to me a conservative position on governance would lean toward local control," he said.
Hall said lawmakers ideally would find a way to make sure gun ordinances are uniform around the state, but still preserve local control.
"I don't know if you can or can't, but I think it will be part of the issue," he said.
Senate Government Organization Committee Chairman Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, said he has not reviewed this particular legislation but has seen more gun bills this session than in any other session in his career.
He thinks the influx of gun legislation this session has "little or nothing" to do with the mix of Republicans and Democrats in the House, but is driven by national debate on gun issues following December's shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Snyder, a member of the NRA, said he doesn't think limiting gun ownership prevents crime. He suggested this year's proposed legislation might be missing the point, however.
"Gun ownership in West Virginia is alive and well," he said. "I think we ought to be talking about mental health."