City is stuck with new gun rules, Jones says
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The city of Charleston has no choice but to revoke its 20-year-old limits on handguns as ordered by a home rule bill passed Saturday by the Legislature, Mayor Danny Jones said.
"We're going to have to take what's coming to us," Jones said during a half-hour speech to reporters and City Council members at a meeting of council's Finance Committee Monday evening.
Jones and other city leaders had been watching closely throughout the session as, with the apparent backing of the National Rifle Association, legislators introduced and debated a number of bills that would roll back laws that cities like Charleston and Dunbar had passed to restrict handgun sales, or place further restrictions on cities' ability to regulate handguns.
One bill that sailed through the House of Delegates died in the Senate after Senate leaders complained of threats if they didn't pass the bill.
But Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, later inserted many of the same measures as amendments to a home rule bill that extends and expands the current five-year pilot home-rule program that Charleston is participating in.
That bill, now awaiting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's signature, would force Charleston to roll back two laws passed in 1993. One forbids handguns and other weapons in city buildings, parks and recreation areas. The other requires a three-day waiting period for buying handguns.
In his first public remarks since before the bill was passed, Jones questioned a statement City Council President Tom Lane made this past weekend, that the city might challenge the constitutionality of the Legislature's action.
"We are a political subdivision of the state," Jones said. "You can't sue yourself."
Jones, a Republican, said he always wondered what would happen if his party took control of the Legislature. "Guess what, they have," he said. "Speaker Thompson has ceded his authority to the fringe.
"What they came up with is a bill that, if you buy into home rule, you can't forbid guns. If you want to carry a gun in the Martin Luther King Center, we can't stop them."
Jones said not many people know he's also a minister. He showed a copy of his card as a member of the Universal Life Church.
"I've always wanted to perform a marriage," he said. "I talked to [House Minority Leader and Delegate ] Tim Armstead, [R-Kanawha]: 'What would you think about giving mayors power to marry people?' He said, 'You wouldn't want to marry gay people?' I never brought that up.
"I didn't think anything about it until a few days ago until I heard a rumor was going around the Republican caucus that Charleston wants to have gay marriages."
Lane's amendment also forbids cities from performing marriages or divorces.
"It's not going to stop here," Jones said. "It's been a tough couple of months. They'll do what the gun lobby wants but they won't do what a city asks."
Tomblin is not likely to veto the bill, Jones said. "He's from Logan County. If he vetoes it, they'll go into special session and pass something worse. They'll pass something worse next year."
East End Councilman Robert Sheets said he hears more gunshots in his neighborhood than he'd like to admit.
"Any sane person would know there is no one in this country who is going to take your gun away," Sheets said. "Unfortunately we've had hysteria in the Legislature. Hopefully people will stop and listen next year.
"We as a sane civilization have to reflect on what's happened in this session," he said. People from out of state have made themselves heard. People themselves have not been heard. Some people are afraid to speak their mind to their legislators because others have drowned them out."
In other business Monday, council members:
* Agreed to send to the state Municipal Home Rule Board a request to amend the city's home rule plan to let the city charge a half-cent sales tax. The proceeds would be used to improve and expand the aging Civic Center. A ruling is expected later this week.
* Approved a bill to simplify the city's business license laws by imposing a uniform $25-a-year fee on businesses. In addition, professional services like doctors, lawyers, accountants and lobbyists who were exempt will now have to register.
* Introduced a bill to modify the year-old outdoor dining rules. The bill would ban smoking at outdoor tables, require restaurants to rent enclosure fences from the city and expand the free sidewalk area to 4 feet.
Reach Jim Balow at email@example.com or 304-348-5102.