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Repeal of gun limits passes committee

Chris Dorst
Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, listens to discussion about an amendment under consideration during a House Political Subdivisions Committee meeting Wednesday. The committee discussed, among other issues, local ordinances aimed at gun sales.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Legislation to repeal city ordinances in Charleston and other cities that restrict purchases of guns and ammo (HB2558) passed the House Political Subdivisions Committee Wednesday on a unanimous voice vote.

However, committee Chairman Mark Hunt, D-Kanawha, said he believes it's unlikely the bill -- which next goes to House Judiciary Committee -- will pass the Legislature this session.

"I don't think, frankly, that this bill is going to have much success for passage," Hunt said of the bill.

In 1999, the Legislature enacted a law that prohibits city councils or county commissions from imposing any restrictions on the right to "purchase, possess, transfer, own, carry, transport, sell or store any revolver, pistol, rifle or shotgun."

However, the law has a grandfather clause for any municipal gun ordinances on the books prior to June 1, 1999, including a Charleston city ordinance that limits handgun purchases to one per person per month.

That ordinance was enacted in 1993, to address problems the city was having with drug dealers from large Eastern and Midwestern cities coming to Charleston to sell drugs, and then buying handguns with the profits.

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said Wednesday he is highly concerned that the Legislature is attempting to repeal the city ordinance.

"It affects us very negatively because the people that we want to slow down from buying guns are not from here, but are from big urban areas like Detroit, Cleveland, New York and Washington, D.C.," he said.

"We've got to hope wiser thoughts prevail. The rest of the country is going in one direction, and we're going in the other," Jones said of bills in the Legislature to weaken or nullify gun regulations.

"You would think the NRA would want to keep a low profile after their national leader [Wayne LaPierre] made a fool out of himself after Newtown, but I guess this is one place the NRA thinks it can get bills passed," Jones added.

Asked why he put the bill on his committee's agenda, Hunt commented, "I'm just doing what my people tell me to do."

In other House activity Wednesday:

* The Roads and Transportation Committee advanced a bill that would eliminate tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike after the current road bonds are paid off, effective Feb. 1, 2020 (HB2559).

Maintenance of the 88-mile section of interstate would become the responsibility of the state Division of Highways, under the legislation.

According to the bill's fiscal note, it will cost Highways at least $59 million a year to maintain the roadway, which will require a minimum 7.3-cent per gallon increase in the state's gasoline tax to replace the toll revenue.

* For a second time, committee members tabled a bill to increase the speed limit on the section of Turnpike between the Chelyan and Mossy toll plazas from 60 mph to 70 mph for automobiles.

Parkways general manager Greg Barr pointed out that when the design engineering was done to upgrade that section of the Turnpike, the national speed limit was 55 mph, and the project was designed for maximum speeds of 60 mph.

He argued against raising the speed limit for that section of Turnpike, which has 33 curves posted at 55 mph in that 25-mile stretch.

"We still have a fair number of tractor-trailer rollovers," he said of that section of the Turnpike.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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