W.Va. House votes to repeal local gun laws
03/12/2013 - Charleston Daily Mail
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The state House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved legislation Monday that would repeal municipal gun laws.
Supporters said the measure makes gun laws fair and uniform across the state while protecting Second Amendment rights.
Opponents, greatly outnumbered, argued the bill takes control away from Charleston and other municipal governments and would make streets more dangerous.
Delegates approved House Bill 2760 by a vote of 94-4. Two members were absent. The bill adds language to the section of state law that deals with county and other municipal governments.
The section aims to give the Legislature "complete control" over gun laws, preempting city laws like the one in Charleston that limits the purchase of handguns.
"The grandfather clause worked for us; why are you taking it out? We're telling you we need it," said Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha.
Along with Poore, Kanawha Democrats Nancy Guthrie and Danny Wells voted against the bill. Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, also voted against the bill.
The other eight members of the Kanawha County delegation voted in favor of the bill. Democrat Mark Hunt spoke at length in the bill's support.
"Charleston is no longer the center of this legislative universe," Hunt told legislators Monday.
Any Charleston-level ordinance is secondary to state law, he said. As he did in 1999, Hunt said it's important to provided uniform gun laws across the state.
The bill approved is a committee substitute. That means there were changes made to the original bill at the committee level. One of those changes expressly adds the words "grandfathered municipal gun ordinances" and thus directly affects Charleston's 1993 law.
The city ordinance limits handgun purchases to one per person per month and the buyer must wait 72 hours before taking the handgun. Although a 1999 state law banned gun restrictions at the city level, the measure had a "grandfather clause" that allowed any laws passed before 1999 to remain in effect.
Several delegates said those laws are a hindrance to law-abiding gun buyers statewide, specifically mentioning the outdoors store Cabela's in Charleston.
"The city of Charleston is losing business over this ordinance," said Delegate Rupert Phillips, D-Logan, the bill's lead sponsor.
Hunt said the person who decided Charleston was the best location for the gun-touting store "should be fired." Other lawmakers mentioned the store as well: Delegates Lynwood "Woody" Ireland, R-Ritchie, and Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, each mentioned the number of law-abiding citizens who would buy guns at the Charleston store if it weren't for the law.
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones, a Republican, vehemently opposes the bill and said the idea that a hunter who wanted to buy a gun legally at Cabela's would be hindered by the city ordinance is a joke.
"They could buy a dozen rifles," Jones said, noting his city's bill applies only to handguns.
Other bill proponents said the city ordinance doesn't cut down on crime in Charleston.
"A criminal is not going to say 'Oh, I can't get it in Charleston,'<\!p><\#148> said Delegate Josh Nelson, R-Boone. "They're just going to go right outside the border, buy what they're going to buy and do what they're going to do."
Nelson, a cosponsor of the bill, admitted people who are not criminals also could buy guns outside the city. He said a larger issue was that cities were trying to preempt state gun laws.
Nelson is also a co-sponsor of a House bill that would make any future federal law controlling gun ownership invalid in West Virginia. He mentioned that Monday's bill also upholds a person's Second Amendment rights, a stance taken by at least one other House Republican who spoke.
All three Kanawha County Democrats who voted against the bill spoke against it Monday.
Delegate Nancy Guthrie said she thought the Legislature was headed down a "slippery slope." No law enforcement agency called for the bill, and no one said the Charleston ordinance wasn't working, she said.
"I spoke with the NRA. They were in favor of the bill," Phillips said later when asked why he introduced the bill.
The ease of getting a gun in West Virginia brings criminals to the state, argued Kanawha Democrats Danny Wells and Meshea Poore. Both voted against the measure.
Poore, who represents downtown Charleston and surrounding neighborhoods, said Cabela's knew the law when it came to Charleston and other businesses in Charleston feel safer with it in place.
"Think about the mom-and-pop shops: Bluegrass Kitchen, Thelma Fay's," Poore said. "These individuals are businesses as well. They're affected if people don't feel comfortable coming into their restaurants because of the crime on the street."
She also thinks the bill spits in the face of local control, the idea of moving more power from the state level to local communities.
The Senate passed a bill last week to extend the Home Rule Pilot Program until 2019. The project, which expires this year, gives more control over taxes and regulations to participating cities.
Charleston's ordinance makes the city safer, Poore said, but she also doesn't want to see guns purchased locally end up elsewhere. She was one of several legislators to mention large urban areas as destinations for West Virginia weapons.
Several mentioned Detroit as a destination for West Virginia guns. Phillips brought up Cleveland and Chicago as well, other larger cities typically cited as locations for Mountain State firearms.
The mayor agreed.
"Our guns turn up in other places, just like the dope from other places turns up here," Jones said.
It's tough to prove the law has been effective, Jones said, but he's confident it has been a success.
Neither supporters nor opponents mentioned any statistics or data to prove the Charleston law is or is not working. Only anecdotal evidence was provided.
In 2010, West Virginians were killed by guns at a higher rate than people living in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, New York and many other states with large urban centers.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14.1 West Virginians per 100,000 were killed by a gun in 2010. The rate is adjusted to take all ages into account and includes all gun-related deaths. The CDC recommends it for comparison purposes.
Michiganders died at a rate of 11 people per 100,000. Rates for deaths caused by guns in Ohio, Illinois, California and New York were all below 10.
West Virginia's rate was 13th in the nation for 2010, the latest data available. States with higher rates included Alaska, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Montana and Wyoming.
Many gun bills remain before the House. More than 30 have been introduced this session.
The legislation must be approved by the Senate and signed by the governor before it becomes law.