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Group sues to block Charleston gun laws

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A gun rights group wants a jury to stop the city of Charleston from enforcing a number of handgun restrictions on its books.

The injunction, filed by the West Virginia Citizens Defense League in Kanawha Circuit Court, alleges the group's members have suffered "irreparable harm to their unalienable rights as United States and West Virginia citizens" under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the West Virginia state constitution.

Specifically, the injunction targets city laws that prohibit handguns and other deadly weapons on public property, including city hall, the Charleston Municipal Auditorium, the Civic Center, playgrounds and recreation centers; and a series of laws concerning handgun sales. Read the full lawsuit here.

Charleston requires a 72-hour waiting period for handgun sales, and requires a registration form, photo identification and background checks for handgun buyers. It also limits handgun sales to one per person per month

City Attorney Paul Ellis said he wasn't able to comment on the injunction, because it is active litigation.

"We'll review the complaint and respond in court," he said.

Charleston's rules have been on the books for more than 20 years. A 1999 state law prevented future municipal gun laws, but grandfathered existing ones.

Last spring, the state Legislature renewed and expanded the state's home rule pilot program beginning in 2014, but included a requirement that home rule cities eliminate gun ordinances.

The ordinance language was added by Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, whose district includes Cross Lanes, parts of Nitro and Scott Depot in Putnam County.

City officials said earlier this year they have until June 1, 2014, to either modify their handgun laws within 90 days of that date or opt out of the home rule program.

Mayor Danny Jones was critical of the gun amendment to the home rule bill last spring, and reiterated that the city still has time to address the gun issue.

"I'm not worried about a lawsuit," Jones said.

Charleston enacted a series of handgun restrictions in the early 1990s in response to issues caused by handguns in the city.

In April 1993, council approved a firearms ban that covered City Hall, the Municipal Auditorium, Charleston Civic Center and all parks and recreation facilities. Law enforcement officers and entertainers were and are exempt.

The bill was drafted by then-Police Chief Dallas Staples and former Parks Director Mike Simmons "after a March 18 incident at Kanawha City Recreation Center. During a heated basketball game, a player apparently went to his car and brought a handgun back in the building," according to Daily Mail archives.

Later that year, the city also enacted its handgun sales restrictions after a string of violent crime in the city, and a situation where drug dealers from large metropolitan areas in the Northeast and Midwest would sell drugs in Charleston, then use the profits to buy cheap guns, according to a Daily Mail article at the time. The city chamber of commerce also endorsed the law.

The Citizens Defense League is a self-described "pro-gun lobbying group." It advocates for fewer gun restrictions.

"We believe the City of Charleston is in direct violation of the (home rule) law and we're confident the courts will find the same," said Art Thomm, a Berkeley County resident who is the vice president of the league.

Contact writer Matt Murphy at Matt.Murphy@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4817. Follow him on Twitter @DMLocalGov and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ DailyMailLocalGov


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