CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved legislation Monday that would repeal municipal gun laws.
Supporters said the measure makes gun laws fair and uniform across the state while protecting Second Amendment rights.
Opponents, greatly outnumbered, argued the bill takes control away from Charleston and other municipal governments and would make streets more dangerous.
Delegates approved House Bill 2760 by a vote of 94-4. Two members were absent. The bill adds language to the section of state law that deals with county and other municipal governments.
The section aims to give the Legislature "complete control" over gun laws, preempting city laws like the one in Charleston that limits the purchase of handguns.
"The grandfather clause worked for us; why are you taking it out? We're telling you we need it," said Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha.
Along with Poore, Kanawha Democrats Nancy Guthrie and Danny Wells voted against the bill. Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, also voted against the bill.
The other eight members of the Kanawha County delegation voted in favor of the bill. Democrat Mark Hunt spoke at length in the bill's support.
"Charleston is no longer the center of this legislative universe," Hunt told legislators Monday.
Any Charleston-level ordinance is secondary to state law, he said. As he did in 1999, Hunt said it's important to provided uniform gun laws across the state.
The bill approved is a committee substitute. That means there were changes made to the original bill at the committee level. One of those changes expressly adds the words "grandfathered municipal gun ordinances" and thus directly affects Charleston's 1993 law.
The city ordinance limits handgun purchases to one per person per month and the buyer must wait 72 hours before taking the handgun. Although a 1999 state law banned gun restrictions at the city level, the measure had a "grandfather clause" that allowed any laws passed before 1999 to remain in effect.
Several delegates said those laws are a hindrance to law-abiding gun buyers statewide, specifically mentioning the outdoors store Cabela's in Charleston.
"The city of Charleston is losing business over this ordinance," said Delegate Rupert Phillips, D-Logan, the bill's lead sponsor.
Hunt said the person who decided Charleston was the best location for the gun-touting store "should be fired." Other lawmakers mentioned the store as well: Delegates Lynwood "Woody" Ireland, R-Ritchie, and Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, each mentioned the number of law-abiding citizens who would buy guns at the Charleston store if it weren't for the law.
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones, a Republican, vehemently opposes the bill and said the idea that a hunter who wanted to buy a gun legally at Cabela's would be hindered by the city ordinance is a joke.
"They could buy a dozen rifles," Jones said, noting his city's bill applies only to handguns.
Other bill proponents said the city ordinance doesn't cut down on crime in Charleston.
"A criminal is not going to say 'Oh, I can't get it in Charleston,'<\!p><\#148> said Delegate Josh Nelson, R-Boone. "They're just going to go right outside the border, buy what they're going to buy and do what they're going to do."
Nelson, a cosponsor of the bill, admitted people who are not criminals also could buy guns outside the city. He said a larger issue was that cities were trying to preempt state gun laws.
Nelson is also a co-sponsor of a House bill that would make any future federal law controlling gun ownership invalid in West Virginia. He mentioned that Monday's bill also upholds a person's Second Amendment rights, a stance taken by at least one other House Republican who spoke.