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Gun laws, like guns, need careful handling

Earlier this month, the House of Delegates passed by a 94-4 vote a bill that called for uniform gun laws across the state of West Virginia. It sounds simple, even sensible.

But the House's gun bill would have achieved uniformity by invalidating ordinances that some municipalities passed in an attempt to deter trafficking in guns.

In 1993, the city of Charleston passed a measure limiting handgun purchases - rifles were not affected - to one per person per month, with a 72-hour waiting period before the purchaser could pick up the gun.

City officials - and the public - were concerned about a shocking number of shootings.

In 1999, the state passed a law prohibiting city councils and county commissions from enforcing gun ordinances that restricted gun rights in a way not consistent with state law. The measure exempted existing ordinances.

This year's House measure would repeal the grandfathering of longstanding city gun laws.

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones objected.

"This law will allow the flow of guns and drugs in and out of our city to increase," he said.

Jones and Delegate Mark Hunt then detoured into a firefight of insults that didn't advance reason much.

Here's hoping the state Senate provides a cooling atmosphere in which reason can prevail.

The state's interest in uniform laws is understandable. The city's interest in thwarting the drugs and guns trade is no less so.

The city was trying to stop "straw purchases" - people buying guns for those who are legally barred from buying guns themselves.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Loew discussed the problem with the Daily Mail's Ashley B. Craig in late February.

Loew said that about 10 years ago, James Gray, a convicted felon from New Jersey, found a taxi driver in West Virginia to buy guns for him. She lied on the forms, claimed she was buying the weapons for herself, and bought 50 to 100 guns for Gray, Loew said.

The city has also described the problem of drug dealers bringing illegal drugs to this market and returning to their own home cities loaded up with guns they couldn't legally have purchased there.

How would the state deter straw purchases?

Gun laws, like guns, are dangerous. The House of Delegates may have gone off half-cocked.

The Senate should be careful not to do so.



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