CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia Senate President Jeffrey Kessler says a bill that would eliminate municipal gun restrictions in four cities is unlikely to proceed.
The bill passed the House with overwhelming support, and recent rallies have urged its passage in the Senate. It would create uniform state gun laws and nullify more restrictive gun ordinances in Charleston, South Charleston, Dunbar and Martinsburg.
The bill has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Government Organization. Committee Chairman Herb Snyder said he has received about 10 threatening phone calls and three emails related to the bill's passage.
"They said, 'We're going to drive by your house,' " the Jefferson County Democrat told The Associated Press last week. "Another one was, 'If the bill doesn't pass, you won't go home from Charleston.' It's quite threatening."
Kessler said Tuesday that those threats were part of the reason for stalling the bill.
"Not on my watch, not ever," Kessler said of the threats, calling them way out of line and overzealous.
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones, an outspoken opponent of the bill, commended Kessler for standing up against the threats.
"I think that if you allow yourself to be bullied in the schoolyard, you're probably going to be bullied every day," he said. "I think it was the right thing to do, and I'm very grateful for it."
Charleston's gun ordinance was the primary target of the House gun bill. First adopted in 1993, the ordinance limits handgun purchases in city limits to one per month, with a 72-hour waiting period.
Jones said the ordinance was put in place to thwart a Detroit-based gun-for-drugs trade, where drug dealers would bring their product to the state, sell it and then use the cash to purchase handguns. Those handguns would then return to Detroit, where they would be sold on the street, Jones said.
"You can still get a gun here. It's a little more cumbersome," Jones said. "We're not going to repeal our ordinance."
Jones said he was "very happy" the gun bill would not pass this session.
The West Virginia Citizens Defense League, a pro-gun lobbying group, held rallies on Saturday in Martinsburg and Charleston. The rallies were aimed at Snyder and Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo. In Charleston, rally-goers held signs calling Palumbo a tyrant and comparing gun control regulations with Hitler's policies.
Kessler also says that the affected cities are resisting the bill. He said that if people want those city laws overturned, they should work at the local level to do that.
Keith Morgan, president of the defense league, said in an email message that his group would campaign against Kessler for the next three years, until he is up for re-election.
"We already have people from his district gravitating to the effort," Morgan said. "He's going to be very familiar with us by 2016."