Copyright 2014 Charleston Newspapers
Charleston officials want a Kanawha judge to decide whether the city's municipal recreation centers are educational facilities under state law.
If the judge agrees with the city's arguments, Charleston would be able to continue to ban firearms from its recreation centers.
The complaint stems from Senate Bill 317, which was signed into law by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin earlier this week.
The new law changes how municipalities can regulate firearms on municipal property.
One of the provisions of the bill requires cities to allow licensed concealed carry firearms into municipal recreation centers, which are defined as "any municipal swimming pool, recreation center, sports facility, facility housing an after-school program or other similar facility where children are regularly present.
However, state law also bans all firearms from being carried "on a school bus . . . in or on a public or private primary or secondary education building, structure, facility or grounds including a vocational education building, structure, facility or grounds where secondary vocational education programs are conducted or at a school-sponsored function.
Charleston officials believe that since the city's Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center houses a Head Start program and other recreation centers host after-school programs, those facilities count as education facilities under state law.
Circuit Judge Carrie Webster has been assigned to the complaint.
The state law in question, Senate Bill 317, was changed several times since its introduction, and was passed unanimously by the Senate. In the House of Delegates, only five members voted against the bill - Nancy Guthrie, Meshea Poore and Danny Wells, all D-Kanawha; Mary Poling, D-Barbour; and Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson.
For most cities in the state, the new law generally expands their right to regulate firearms by eliminating a 1999 law that made city gun ordinances illegal except for those in effect at the time.
However, for Charleston, South Charleston and Dunbar - three of the four cities with pre-1999 gun ordinances - the new state law will reduce their ability to regulate guns due to the recreation center provision.
The new law also allows persons who sue cities over the provisions of the bill to be awarded attorney fees and court costs at the expense of the municipality. It also dictates that municipalities cannot be treated as a property owner for the purposes of W.Va. Code 61-7-14, which ensures the right of property owners to prohibit firearms on property they own, and that guns must be allowed to be stored in locked vehicles in municipal parking facilities.
The state law also prohibits municipal laws concerning gun sales. Charleston was the only city in the state with such restrictions.
Last week, Charleston's city council removed its restrictions on handgun sales in an attempt to encourage Tomblin to veto the bill.
Charleston's gun ordinance concerning sales included a 72-hour waiting period for handgun sales, and required a registration form, photo identification and background checks for handgun buyers. It also limited handgun sales to one per person per month.
Like Charleston's ordinance concerning carry of firearms (which is still on the books), the sales law was implemented in 1993 after a string of violent crime in the city, in particular a situation where drug dealers from large metropolitan areas in the Northeast and Midwest would sell drugs in Charleston, 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.
Since that time, city officials have maintained that the gun sales law has eliminated the "drugs-for-guns trade in the city.