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Home rule compromise would require Charleston to repeal gun laws

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston city officials will have to repeal a two-decade old ordinance restricting handgun purchases in order to continue in a municipal home-rule program that gives local leaders more flexibility to run the city.

Under a House-Senate compromise on legislation that extends and expands a home-rule pilot project through 2019 (SB435), cities that participate in home rule must be willing to repeal municipal gun ordinances. Charleston is the only city in the program with such gun laws. 

Additionally, the bill limits participating cities' ability to restrict open-carry of firearms. Guns could be barred in municipal government buildings, while persons with concealed weapon permits would be allowed to bring firearms into most city-owned facilities, including parks and other public venues.

"This bill allows individuals to carry weapons in ballparks and pool facilities owned by municipalities," said Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha.

He said the Legislature allowed a bill intended to spur economic development and job growth in cities to be "co-opted by special interests," by inserting pro-gun and anti-gay measures completely unrelated to municipal home rule.

"I think we have been manipulated by special interests," McCabe said in a floor speech. "To be blunt, we are pandering to special interests at the expense of our cities."

Likewise, Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, said the Legislature had an opportunity to promote economic development by extending home rule.

"What did we do with it? We put in wedge issues, because people are more concerned, not about the next generation, but about the next election," he said.

"The whole thing is we don't want guns around our kids," West Virginia Municipal League Executive Director Lisa Dooley said of House changes to the bill, which originally was intended to expand the program giving city governments more autonomy.

"This doesn't belong in a home-rule bill," she said of the gun provisions.

In the House, Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, amended the bill to include the provisions of HB2760, a bill nullifying gun ordinances in four West Virginia cities, including Charleston, South Charleston and Dunbar. That bill passed the House 94-4 but was not taken up in the Senate.

Besides requiring cities participating in home rule to repeal municipal gun ordinances, Lane's amendment also limited cities' ability to restrict guns to municipal government buildings only. In conference committee Saturday, delegates agreed to expand that to include parks and other city-owned facilities, but exempting persons with concealed carry permits.

The Senate passed the measure 32-2, and the House 97-2. It goes to the governor.

Cities with gun regulations participating in home rule would have to repeal those ordinances within 90 days, or they would become null and void.

House amendments also bar participating cities from enacting marriage ordinances, presumably to preclude recognition of same-sex marriages.

Charleston City Council adopted the ordinance restricting handgun purchases in the early 1990s to curb a drugs-for-guns trade involving dealers in large cities in the Midwest and northeast.

Under the conference committee agreement, four cities currently in the home rule pilot project, Charleston, Huntington, Wheeling and Bridgeport, could opt to continue through 2019, and up to 14 additional cities in the state could apply to participate in the extended home-rule program.

A legislative audit released in December concluded the initial pilot project had been successful, allowing cities to raise revenue, promote economic development and eliminate urban blight.

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


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