By Lawrence Messina
West Virginia would void local and countywide gun laws under a measure endorsed Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee. The action advances it toward a vote by the full House of Delegates.
The panel approved the bill on a voice vote that was not unanimous. The measure would make clear that only the Legislature can regulate firearms or ammunition. The goal is ensuring uniform laws that apply statewide in this area, said House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, a Harrison County Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill.
The measure would strike down any ordinances inconsistent with state law, including several adopted in the 1990s by Charleston, the state’s largest city and its capital. Those limit handgun purchases to one per month, and require the buyer to wait 72 hours before receiving the weapon.
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said those ordinances target attempts by drug dealers to buy up firearms in regions where they are common to sell in urban areas with strict gun control laws. Jones also noted that the city’s police chief can and does grant exceptions to the purchase limit, as provided by the ordinance.
“This is not good for Charleston,” Jones said Tuesday.
An existing state law already bars future local and county ordinances, but exempts those previously enacted. Tuesday’s bill would repeal that exception, also voiding laws in Dunbar, South Charleston and Martinsburg.
Supporters include the West Virginia Citizens Defense League, which had previously tried to overturn the ordinances of Charleston and the other municipalities in federal court. Federal judges had directed the group last year to pursue their claims in state court first. Keith Morgan, the league’s president, said his group has turned to the Legislature to seek this goal.
Morgan said Tuesday that the measure advanced by the House Judiciary Committee reflects provisions in several pending measures, and creates “an outstanding bill that will eliminate West Virginia’s enforcement minefield from city to city and protect those who lawfully exercise their Second Amendment rights.”
“Today we applaud the efforts of many delegates who worked for the liberty of West Virginians,” Morgan said.
A Republican, Jones also cited how sponsors of Tuesday’s bill include such Democrats as Miley and House Majority Leader Brent Boggs. In a state with high rates of gun ownership, Jones questioned whether that party was seeking to outmaneuver GOP lawmakers on the issue.
“They’re not going to let the Republicans get in front of them when it comes to the National Rifle Association,” Jones said.
Miley said he has previously sponsored measures in support of gun rights, and believes the issue is a nonpartisan one in West Virginia.
“It’s almost universally supported across party lines, at least in the House,” Miley said following Tuesday’s vote.