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House passes bill to repeal city gun laws

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Legislation to nullify all city and county firearms regulations statewide (HB2760) passed the House of Delegates on Monday with a 94-4 vote, over objections from some delegates from Charleston, which has had a gun-control law for two decades.

The bill would take precedence over any city or county ordinances regulating the sale or possession of firearms or ammunition.

Proponents of the bill argued it is important to have uniformity in state gun laws, with several citing the inconvenience of Charleston's 72-hour waiting period to buy handguns.

Delegates from Charleston said the city should be allowed to set its own standards for public safety.

"I was elected to come here and protect the children that walk the streets of Charleston," said Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, whose district includes the East End, West Side and downtown Charleston.

"When someone can get drugs in place for a cheap gun, think how that affects our children," Poore said. She noted that the city's ordinance was enacted in the 1990s to crack down on a drugs-for-guns trade that brought drug dealers from Detroit, Cleveland and Washington, D.C., to Charleston.

Delegate Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha, posed questions to House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, asking if the bill had been requested by law enforcement officials, or by the federal government, or if there had been problems with enforcement of the Charleston ordinance.

Each time, Miley answered no.

"If we pass this, can anyone take an AK-47 into a municipal pool?" Guthrie asked.

"Unless it's otherwise prohibited in the state code, I suppose they can," Miley said.

Delegate Mark Hunt, D-Kanawha, noted that Charleston no longer has the clout in the Legislature that it had in 1999, when Charleston's gun ordinance was grandfathered into legislation that otherwise prohibits municipalities from restricting gun sales.

Earlier Monday, Hunt noted he had advanced a bill similar to HB2760 out of the House Political Subdivisions Committee, HB2558, with assurances from House leadership that it would not proceed further through the legislative process.

However, he said harsh comments from Charleston Mayor Danny Jones, and newspaper editorials critical of that bill caused a backlash among members.

"When the mayor and city council calls us idiots and says it's unwise ... all it does is infuriate the rest of you to vote against Charleston," Hunt said, adding, "I'm not going to have the opportunity today to protect the Charleston city council, and there's not votes in the House to protect them."

Proponents of the bill, which would nullify Charleston's ordinance limiting handgun purchases to one per person per month and imposing a 72-hour waiting period, said the ordinance punishes law-abiding gun owners.

Several cited the city's new Cabela's hunting and fishing superstore. Delegate Woody Ireland, R-Ritchie, held up his Cabela's credit card during his floor speech, noting that if he used the bonus points earned on his card to buy a handgun, he would have to make a second trip to the store in three days to pick it up.

Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, said that is a particular inconvenience for his constituents who shop in Charleston.

"That's a long drive back down Corridor G for law-abiding citizens," he said.

In a statement following the vote, Mayor Jones said he was disappointed the House floor debate focused on Charleston's handgun ordinance, noting "the bill does much more than that."

The legislation gives local governments 90 days after its effective date to repeal all city or county firearms regulations. After 90 days, any existing ordinances would become null and void.

Jones also took umbrage at Hunt's comments. In a prepared statement, the mayor said, "Listening to the debate on the House floor today, I was taken aback by Delegate Mark Hunt and his remarks inferring that members of Charleston city council and the mayor called him an 'idiot.' I do not know if Delegate Hunt is an idiot. Perhaps Delegate Hunt can verify when I called him an idiot or when any member of council called him an idiot."

Voting against the bill Monday were Delegates Guthrie, Poore, and Danny Wells, all D-Kanawha, and Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson. Delegates Ron Fragale, D-Harrison, and Daniel Poling, D-Wood, were absent.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

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


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