CHARLESTON, W.Va. --Capital city officials say the latest proposal by state legislators to prevent cities from regulating firearms would allow people to carry guns in recreation and community centers full of children.
The bill (SB317) was passed by the state Senate on a 32-0 vote Tuesday, and is now in the House of Delegates. It would limit a city's ability to ban all firearms from municipal properties, such as a city hall, a courthouse or civic center. Cities could regulate only openly carried firearms or those concealed without a proper permit.
Public recreation centers -- defined in the bill as "any municipal swimming pool, recreation center, sports facility, facility housing an after-school program or other similar facility where children are present" -- also are included.
The bill also would require cities to post at every entrance of its facilities the terms of its firearm regulations or prohibitions. Charleston Parks and Recreation Director John Charnock said such provisions would make it harder to run the city's four community centers -- Kanawha City Community Center, Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, North Charleston Community Center and Roosevelt Community Center.
While the centers have full-time adult staffers, many have part-time high school and college students as employees during the summer months. Charnock said guns could make staffing the centers "more complicated."
"Some of the people working in the center, they're young," Charnock said. "What can they do when someone has a gun?"
City Council President Tom Lane said the proposal is "appalling" and that it could allow a situation similar the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. The shooting left 26 dead, including 20 children.
"While you have a country that is probably still in shock, we have a Legislature that affirmatively would allow somebody to do what [the Newtown shooter] did, as far as bringing a gun onto the premises where the children are," Lane said.
Community centers are places for people to socialize, take classes, exercise and play games, Charnock said.
"I just don't think we need to have that element of handguns in there," he said. "We do not need the opportunity of some argument or where somebody's horseplaying at the pool and the other one's not horseplaying. I don't need things escalating to the point where guns are involved."
Lane called a provision of the bill that states a city may be required to pay legal fees if found to be in violation of the code "insulting."
While the bill removed a provision in a 2013 law eliminating home-rule cities' rights to enact firearms regulations, it also struck a clause that allowed Charleston and other cities to keep gun ordinances that were enacted before 1999.
When asked if Charleston would continue in the state's home-rule program if the bill isn't passed, Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said the decision is ultimately up to the City Council. However, Jones said, he "hadn't planned on asking [the] council to get us back in home rule."