Does House gun bill have unintended consequences?
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Some Kanawha County officials are worried that a gun bill recently passed by the West Virginia House of Delegates will have unintended consequences.
Earlier this month, the House voted 94-4 to approve House Bill 2760. The bill "preempts the entire field of regulation in this state which pertains to firearms, ammunition and firearms accessories," according to language contained in the bill. The bill effectively nullifies city and county ordinances concerning guns.
Under the bill, ordinances passed by the cities of Charleston, Dunbar, South Charleston and Martinsburg that stop people from carrying guns on city property would be void, according to Charleston City Attorney Paul Ellis. A Charleston law limiting the purchase of handguns to one per month and requiring a three-day waiting period would also be nullified.
But some Kanawha County officials are worried that the bill bans other local rules as well. Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said the bill would do away with county ordinances that ban carrying guns at Kanawha County parks and at Yeager Airport, both of which are under county jurisdiction.
"Air Force One does touch-and-go [landings] at Yeager Airport," Carper said. "Do we really want to allow people with high-powered rifles with a telescope to sit around on the parking lot? I think this bill does that.
"I'm pro-Second Amendment," Carper said. "I'm pro-gun. But I think it's terrible policy to allow people to carry guns openly in a park."
Yeager Airport Director Rick Atkinson said the airport's lawyer believes House Bill 2760 would do away with the county law banning guns at Yeager. Atkinson believes the bill would gut the power of the airport's eight-person police force.
Atkinson said the Transportation Safety Administration does not have arrest powers at the airport. Without the county ordinance prohibiting guns at Yeager, he fears airport police will be able to do nothing if someone shows up with a gun.
"If they catch someone with a gun, even if they're the top operative of Al Qaeda, there's nothing we can do about it," he said. "The TSA has concerns [about the bill] too."
Kanawha County Parks Director Jeff Hutchinson and Kanawha County Parks Police Chief Rodney Jones aren't yet sure how the bill might affect the county parks system.
"It's a touchy subject, because you're talking about somebody's constitutional rights," said Hutchinson, who considers himself a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and the other provisions in the Bill of Rights.
"But you're also usurping a county's ability to meet the needs of its citizens and create a situation that's as safe as possible," he said.
Supporters of House Bill 2760 say the bill creates a uniform set of laws for the entire state. The bill does not preempt any statewide firearms laws.
Keith Morgan, president of the West Virginia Citizen's Defense League, has been watching the bill closely, and is familiar with its provisions. The Citizen's Defense League did not write House Bill 2760, but is actively lobbying for the measure.
Morgan said cities and counties would still be able to enforce state gun laws under the provision.
"If somebody is up [at Yeager Airport] brandishing or threatening or otherwise committing crimes with a firearm, those are state laws, and [airport police] can arrest them" for those crimes, Morgan said.
Morgan said the existing county ordinance prohibiting guns at the airport does little to stop crime. "Do they really think a county ordinance will stop somebody intent on murder or hijacking?" he said.
The state Senate has yet to vote on their own version of the bill, which remains in committee.
Carper said he doesn't know if the House of Delegates thought through all the ramifications of House Bill 2760 before passing the measure.
Delegate Rupert Phillips, D-Logan, was the bill's major sponsor. He said the intent of the bill was not to do away with all firearm regulation. Phillips said state laws prohibiting guns in schools and other public places remain in place, and other firearms crimes are covered under state statute.
"Those will stay the same," he said.
Reach Rusty Marks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1215.