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Jones, city leaders say gun lobby 'hijacked' home rule bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Mayor Danny Jones seems resigned to the fact that the city's 20-year-old gun ordinance will soon be nullified.

The state Legislature passed a measure expanding and extending the home rule program during the session. Now, any city participating in home rule will have to drop all gun ordinances.

Jones, other city leaders and community activists held a press conference on the Capitol steps Thursday morning decrying the measure.

Jones admitted there was little that could be done to fight it. He said city council could opt not to participate in home rule.

"But it really doesn't matter, because if we don't participate they (Legislature) will take our ordinance away next January," he said.

Jones said the city could also ask Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to veto the bill, but such a request would likely be unsuccessful.

The Rev. James Ealy, a Democrat representing a West Side ward, said the worst thing Charleston residents could do is stay silent about the matter.

"We have to take a stand," Ealy said.

The home rule bill gives cities more power to tax and regulate issues. The pilot program was initiated five years ago.

Charleston, Wheeling, Huntington and Bridgeport all became home rule cities under the pilot program. Charleston now wants to use its home rule powers to pass a half-cent sales tax. 

The pilot program expires June 30. It has been expanded by the Legislature, and if city leaders chose to do so, Charleston could continue the program.

Jones said the decision to amend the bill to force cities to drop gun ordinances was "bad public policy."

"People here are putting the interest of a gun manufacturing group in front of the interests of the real people," Jones added.

Charleston's ordinance limits the number of handguns a person can buy to one per every 30 days. It also requires a background check and a three-day waiting period. It applies only to handguns.

It was enacted in the early 1990s when individuals from larger cities were bringing drugs to Charleston to sell for higher prices than they could get in their hometowns.

These individuals also purchased guns in Charleston at a cheaper price than they could get in the larger metropolitan areas where they lived. Then, they would return home to sell the guns at a profit.

The Rev. Matthew Watts, a West Side community organizer, believes the city's ordinance was effective and needed, he said.

Watts attended Thursday's press conference as a way to show "solidarity." Like Jones, Watts believes House lawmakers "hijacked" legislation originally meant to help cities with economic development.

The amended bill "handcuffs" the city because leaders need to have home rule in order to address problems unique to Charleston. But, they must give up "a good ordinance" to do so, Watts said.

Councilman Andy Richardson, an at-large Democrat, said the amended home rule bill also keeps cities from prohibiting people with a concealed weapon permit from carrying a firearm onto municipal-owned property.

He said the provision was his biggest concern.

The new bill only allows cities to prohibit concealed weapons from city halls. Legal weapons would be permitted at pools, parks, playgrounds and other city-owned properties.

"I think this is an unintended consequence," Richardson said. "I can't imagine the House of Delegates wanted to allow people to be able to carry a gun into a city pool."

The part of the bill would mean that young employees, such as lifeguards, could end up having to confront someone who is carrying a firearm onto the premises to check to see if they actually have a concealed weapon permit, he said.      

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


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