CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- What kind of people do we want in our Legislature? What do we want them to do? How do we want them to go about doing it?
While there may be some dispute about details, answers to these questions are easy. We want senators and delegates who stand for something, who will rely upon principle instead of flopping about in response to political winds or whatever lobbyists or their campaign donors tell them their principles should be.
We want them to solve problems. There are problems they can't solve. For example, they can't make us any more morally upright. Even though there are things they can do to make a dent in prescription drug addiction, they can't completely solve it. There may be things they could do to help us become less obese, exercise more, smoke less, etc., but they can't solve that one either.
At the same time, if the education system is broken, they are supposed to help fix it. If the roads are crumbling, they are supposed to do something. If taxes are too high, too low, unfair, whatever, they are supposed to fix that. We don't send them there to strut around the Capitol all day and relax at the Marriott all night. We send them there to fix what's broken, to make things better.
If this is the standard, how is the 2013 West Virginia Legislature doing? From its response on gun control legislation, terribly.
For many, many years, a few West Virginia cities -- including Charleston -- had local ordinances that restricted access to handguns. Charleston's ordinance limits the purchase of pistols to one per month. It also imposes a 72-hour waiting period before a purchaser received the weapon. It also requires dealers to keep records of every handgun sale and provide the police with a copy of a registration form filled out by the buyer.
The West Virginia House of Delegates voted 94-4 to void local gun ordinances. (Four lonely dissenters were Nancy Guthrie, Danny Wells and Meshea Poore of Charleston and Stephen Skinner of Jefferson County.) In one blow, other delegates managed to diminish local control, take a step toward unsolving a problem, and demonstrate its inability to oppose a powerful interest group. If the goal is to show unfitness to legislate, it was a good day's work.
The House-passed measure is the complete opposite of local control. Charleston's city council thought that making handgun purchasers wait 72 hours would give hotheads a chance to cool off. It would give people who are depressed or suicidal a chance to settle down before carrying out what may have been a temporary, short-lived intention to kill themselves. Charleston's council was worried that multiple gun purchases were being traded for drugs from other cities, resulting in more drugs on the streets of Charleston.
The steps were taken by the council, the body that is closest to people who live, or die, under the restrictions. Instead of being guided by the principle of local control, the House of Delegates took away the power of local people to address local problems.