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Charleston mayor says passage of concealed firearms bill 'disgraceful'

CHARLESTON, WV -- "Disgraceful."

That's how Charleston Mayor Danny Jones characterized the passage of a bill allowing concealed firearms into city recreation centers that house day cares and Head Start programs.

The state Legislature passed Senate Bill 317, a bill that removes a grandfather clause for cities with their own gun ordinances, on Saturday, the final day of the regular legislative session.

The bill would allow cities to ban openly carried firearms at city-owned recreation centers,  but allows concealed weapons to be carried into those same facilities.

It requires those concealed weapons to be stored securely out of view and away from access of others.

Jones has serious concerns about that and was still reeling in disbelief that the bill passed Sunday.

"It is absolutely disgraceful that the West Virginia Legislature cares more about taking its direction from the (National Rifle Association) than keeping handguns away from children at rec centers in Charleston and throughout West Virginia," Jones said in a statement. "The bill even defines rec centers as places where children are often present, and yet it still says cities and towns cannot stop people from bringing handguns into them."

He said the city would have to notify the federal government because the Head Start program at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center is federally funded.

"We have to tell them the state is going to force us to allow guns in there," Jones said in a phone interview. "I'm sure there have been guns in that building before, but for the state to sanction it and force us to allow them in there is a danger.

"We'll probably have to put up big warning signs to tell people that strangers might be walking around there carrying guns."

The mayor has said in the past that he felt the bill, which he described as poorly written, was targeting Charleston. He said in a statement that pro-gun lobbyists and legislators have claimed that it is an attempt at making gun laws around the state uniform but "used it as a weapon" to remove Charleston's three-day waiting period.

Charleston's laws regarding the buying and carrying of firearms have been in effect since 1993 when council members approved a firearms ban that covered City Hall, the Charleston Civic Center and Municipal Auditorium, and all city parks and recreation centers.

That ban, drafted by then-Police Chief Dallas Staples and then-parks Director Mike Simmons, was in response to issues caused by handguns in the early 1990s, including one in 1993 at the Kanawha City Recreation Center where a man, angry over a basketball game, brandished a handgun.

The city took it a step further later that year when it restricted firearms sales to one per person, per month. It also instituted criminal background checks on the prospective buyer and added a three-day waiting period.

The Legislature's bill removes the city's firearms bans and restrictions. Jones wasn't concerned about the city losing the three-day waiting period and the one-gun-per-month rule. Jones told the Daily Mail earlier this month that he wanted council to consider removing the city's gun law in hopes that the Legislature would remove the provision in the bill that allows concealed weapons into recreation centers.

The bill allows cities to regulate the open carry of weapons in municipal buildings and during city-sanctioned events on the streets, but also allows those with concealed carry permits to bypass those regulations and bring their concealed weapon onto city property, provided the weapons are locked away.

"We have a federally-funded Head Start program in our King Center, day cares and after school programs where hundreds of children are every day and every week," Jones said. "But at the bidding of the NRA and other pack-heat-everywhere lobbyists, our Legislature just voted to introduce handguns into the midst of many young children."

He called the bill a paradox because federal law prohibits weapons on public school property, but now the city must allow guns into a building where classes are held.

"I cannot understand how it's a felony punishable with 2 to 10 years in jail for anyone to take a gun to a school, but now our state legislators think it is somehow acceptable to bring handguns into rec centers," he said in the statement.

He also called out legislators for waiting until after a January chemical spill tainted the water supply for 300,000 West Virginians to pass a law to protect the state's water supplies. He said he wished the Legislature had been as diligent in protecting the water as they had been in "promoting the wishes of the NRA and other gun lobbyists."

"These legislators have had years to take action to protect the water as our state's most important natural resource from nearby chemical tanks, and yet they finally took action this year almost as an afterthought after it was too late," Jones said. "But instead their focus has been on gun bills and social issues. Last year, in fact, they didn't pass a single bill to protect our water supply while they happily passed seven pro-gun bills."

He said a number of the lawmakers who voted for the bill have likely never been inside a city recreation center. He said those lawmakers go to the "upscale" YMCA or YWCA or their country club, but also that some want to keep in good standing with the NRA.

"People run for office for the right reasons and get in there and they don't want to lose it," Jones said. "They just want to stay in there and will do anything they can to stay.

"This is not what we sent them up there for."

The bill will go to Governor Earl Ray Tomblin to be signed into law or vetoed. Tomblin expressed concern over the bill Saturday but still was reviewing it, the Associated Press reported.

"There seemed to be a little bit of overlap about where you could or could not carry a gun," Tomblin told the AP.

Amy Shuler Goodwin, a spokeswoman for Tomblin, said the governor would review the bill thoroughly, as he does with all bills that come to him.

Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at 304-348-4850 or ashley.craig@dailymailwv.com


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