By Jonathan Mattise
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones hopes a county judge will rule that West Virginians can’t bring guns into city facilities housing school sports and after-school programs, despite a new law that unpeels gun rules in cities statewide.
With Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s approval Tuesday, West Virginia nixed the right for cities to outlaw guns at their swimming pools, tennis courts, after-school centers and similar city venues. Under the new law, concealed carry permit owners visiting the locations would need to store guns securely out of view and access to others on site, or keep them locked in their cars out of sight.
Lisa Dooley, executive director of the West Virginia Municipal League, estimated that at least half of West Virginia’s cities have ordinances prohibiting guns in their recreational facilities.
The West Virginia law mimics other National Rifle Association-backed pushes to keep local governments from crafting gun rules stricter than their states or the federal government. Tennessee’s Republican Legislature is pursuing a similar bill to repeal gun restrictions in city parks.
In 2010, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld a law prohibiting local laws tougher on guns than the state. In 43 states, local governments face varying limits on regulating guns and ammunition, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The West Virginia bill also unravels long-established gun rules in a handful of communities, like Charleston’s three-day waiting period to buy a gun and one gun per month purchase limit. At a March 17 meeting, the City Council stripped the ordinance, which has stood since 1993.
The NRA heralded the state legislation as a gun-rights victory, calling it “a critical pro-gun reform bill which brings Charleston and three other cities that currently have and enforce local gun control ordinances into uniformity with the rest of the state.”
But the law has elicited safety concerns for workers at rec centers, which can cater to kids in the 2- and 3-year-old range.
A concealed carry permit owner herself, Jennifer Holley can’t figure out why someone would need a gun at the Kanawha City Community Center, where she watches over children who get after-school tutoring, lift weights, play basketball, take karate classes, swim and do yoga.
She can’t pinpoint where people would stow away guns on site, since there aren’t lockers. The center’s staff isn’t trained to perform security duties, either, she said.
“Having guns in an area around kids just makes me nervous, period,” said Holley, manager of the city community center.
Jones, the Charleston mayor, is arguing to a Kanawha County Circuit Court judge that it’s a felony to bring guns on school grounds or places hosting school events. So city rec centers that include school-related sports and educational programs should be shielded from guns, the court document states.
“Compliance with both laws by a city is impossible,” Jones’ complaint argues.
The complaint also says guns shouldn’t be allowed in city recreational centers if there aren’t already lockers available to store them.
The new law had no trouble passing West Virginia’s Democratic Legislature. Only five House delegates voted against the bill, and no one in the Senate did.
Jones also raised concerns that state officials keep mentioning a requirement in the law about storing guns in lockers at city recreational facilities. But the law only says guns need to be secured out of view and access to others, an ambiguity that causes him uneasiness.
Tomblin, who said he supported gun owners’ rights by signing the bill, said he would keep working with local and state officials on the recreational centers part of the law.