Copyright 2014 Charleston Newspapers
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones told city council members Monday night he wants council to consider removing the city's 21-year-old gun ordinance concerning firearm sales.
In exchange, the mayor hopes the state Legislature will remove a provision of Senate Bill 317 that would remove the authority of cities to ban concealed-carry firearms from recreation centers.
"This has always been used as an effort to guise an NRA bill," Jones said. "If that's all they want, I say we give it to them.
"This bill is directed against Charleston. It always has been directed against Charleston."
Senate Bill 317 was passed by the state Senate last week and is under consideration in the House of Delegates.
One of the provisions of the current version of SB 317 would allow municipalities to ban firearms in municipally owned recreation centers, but not if the firearm is owned by someone with a concealed carry permit.
In Charleston's case, the provision is particularly sensitive, as some of the city's recreation centers also serve as sites for Head Start programs and other programs that serve children - an issue the mayor and several city council members addressed.
"We need to deal with this in a common sense way," Jones said. "We know they're going to take (the firearms sales ordinance) off anyway."
Charleston's handgun rules have been on the books for more than 20 years and came about in the early 1990s in response to issues caused by handguns in the city.
In April 1993, council approved a firearms ban that covered City Hall, the Municipal Auditorium, Charleston Civic Center and all parks and recreation facilities. Law enforcement officers and entertainers were and are exempt.
The bill was drafted by then-Police Chief Dallas Staples and former Parks Director Mike Simmons "after a March 18 incident at Kanawha City Recreation Center. During a heated basketball game, a player apparently went to his car and brought a handgun back in the building," according to earlier Daily Mail stories.
Later that year, the city also enacted its handgun sales restrictions after a string of violent crime in the city and a situation where drug dealers from large metropolitan areas in the Northeast and Midwest would sell drugs in Charleston and then use the profits to buy cheap guns, according to a Daily Mail article at the time.
The city Chamber of Commerce also endorsed the law.
A 1999 state law prevented future municipal gun laws but grandfathered existing ones. That grandfather clause is one of the targets of SB 317.
Council President Tom Lane, an at-large Republican who helped write the city's original gun ordinances, said Monday night he recalled large protests when the city passed its gun ordinances in 1993, and praised council for supporting those laws.
"During my entire time on council . . . there has never been a bigger crowd, bigger mobs, in this chamber (than when the gun laws were passed)," Lane said. "Yet, this council had the courage to vote for reasonable control."
Lane said firearms "simply don't belong" in recreation facilities, and he challenged the legislature to amend the current version of the bill.
"Is there one person in the House of Delegates that will have the guts. . . to take a reasonable stand?" he said.
SB 317 has been amended and largely rewritten several times since its introduction.
The original bill, sponsored by 18 senators from largely rural districts, not only would have prohibited all municipal gun laws but also would have allowed out-of-state residents and special interest groups to sue cities with gun laws remaining on their books and allow judges to force cities to pay damages to said groups.
A revision of the bill then took out the lawsuit provision, but still prohibited all municipal gun laws.
On Feb. 19, the Senate Judiciary Committee rewrote the bill to formally allow all municipalities to regulate firearms on municipal property and on streets during municipal events, but local ordinances concerning sales would still not be permitted.
Then, on Feb. 25 when SB 317 was before the full Senate, that body rewrote the bill again to allow municipalities to regulate firearms in municipal buildings, during municipally authorized events on streets and recreation centers. However, concealed carry permit holders would be allowed to bring guns in recreation centers and to municipally authorized events.
Furthermore, the bill would allow persons who sue cities over the provisions of the bill to be awarded attorney fees and court costs at the expense of the municipality.
Lane said the ease of obtaining a concealed carry permit in West Virginia is also concerning, since those people are covered by exemptions in the bill.
West Virginia is considered a "shall-issue" state for concealed carry permits.
If the bill were to pass, "somebody's going to test this thing," he said.
To remove the gun sales ordinance, a bill doing so would need to be introduced at city council's next meeting on March 17. From there, it would likely need to be approved by council's Public Safety Committee before being voted on by the full council on April 7.