NRA Challenges Gun Ban in School-Used Rec Center

Paul Steinbach Headshot

A National Rifle Association representative appeared at Tuesday's meeting of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County (W.V.) Parks and Recreation board, lobbying members to reconsider the banning of guns from a Lambert Park recreation center.

It represented the latest debate over changing gun laws and interpretations dating back to 1993, when Charleston passed an ordinance prohibiting all guns from recreation centers and then saw that statute challenged by defense advocates.

In 2014, the West Virginia Legislature amended state code to allow municipalities to ban firearms in municipally-owned facilities, and ban the carrying firearms openly in municipally-owned recreation centers.

According to The Journal in Martinsburg, the amended code reads, "Provided, that a municipality may not prohibit a person with a valid concealed handgun permit from carrying an otherwise lawfully possessed firearm into a municipally owned recreation facility and securely storing the firearm out of view and access to others during their time at the municipally owned recreation facility."

The code also makes it clear that guns — whether legally obtained and concealed or not — are prohibited from school property.

In August, a Kanawha County Circuit Court judge ruled that if a municipally-owned recreation center is used for school activities, the rec center is exempted from having to allow guns on premises, even during times when school activities are not taking place.

Judge James Stucky concluded that "the only manageable standard is to bar firearms completely and at all times if such programs are conducted at certain municipal recreation centers. Those recreation centers are determined to be an educational facility and protected by W.Va. Code 61-7-11a."

The Berkeley 2000 Recreation Center in Lambert Park is used by North Middle School, but no formal lease agreement exists. In October, MBCPR executive director Steve Catlett announced that Berkeley 2000 would qualify for the gun exemption and that a formal lease is probably needed.

Art Thomm, the NRA's lobbyist in West Virginia, told MBCPR board members Tuesday, "We are prepared to step in if you decide to go down that road."

Thomm said he spend 90 minutes with NRA lawyers preparing for the MBCPR meeting. "Berkeley 2000 Recreation Center doesn’t qualify as a school facility per the ruling and the law," he said. "If you could lease it for a nominal fee, any county or municipal facility could get a lease, call themselves a school and circumvent the law."

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