CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston city officials have had to reprimand businesses for violating the city's gun ordinance only twice since its passage 20 years ago, causing Police Chief Brent Webster to believe sellers are following the letter of the law.
Charleston prohibits businesses within city limits from selling more than one handgun to a single person within 30 days. The city also requires the businesses to run background checks and require three-day waiting periods for individuals who want to buy handguns.
The ordinance doesn't apply to hunting rifles.
Sellers must submit forms completed by themselves and the handgun buyers to the city police department, Webster said. A detective reviews the forms to ensure the businesses are in compliance.
The business also sends the forms to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Webster said.
After speaking with detectives who oversee the program, Webster said he could find only two instances of a business running afoul of the ordinance. In both instances, the business sold more than one handgun to an individual within 30 days.
"Detectives determined it was a clerical error in both cases," Webster said. "The businesses were let off with a stern warning."
Because the sellers were simply warned, Deputy Chief Jason Beckett would not identify them.
In both cases, a person went to the store to buy a handgun several days after already purchasing one and dealt with a different sales associate, Webster said.
"The detectives believed it was unintentional on the business's part," he said.
Detectives caught both cases by reviewing the forms, he said.
The officers have never noticed any violations of the three-day waiting period or the background checks.
"I'm not saying that something like that has never happened," Webster said. "But the businesses would be taking a pretty big risk violating the ordinance."
A retailer's city business license could be revoked if it were to violate the ordinance, Webster said. Police also could report the business to the ATF.
"They could end up losing their federal firearms license," Webster said.
The chief said detectives could perform "stings" similar to alcohol compliance checks if they noticed any disturbing trends at local firearms dealers.
The department has not seen the need to conduct such operations, he said.
"They (businesses) could take a shot at selling guns and not reporting it to us," Webster said. "But it's definitely a big risk for them."
Dozens of gun rights bills were introduced in the state Legislature this session, and one would have nullified Charleston's ordinance.
However, the bills are likely to die in Senate committees.
Charleston is not the only city to enact ordinances dealing with guns. So have South Charleston, Dunbar and Martinsburg.
However, the other city ordinances don't address firearm sales. They simply prohibit people from carrying firearms in city-owned facilities.