Let’s hope the West Virginia Senate exercises the good sense that the House of Delegates failed to demonstrate when it voted Monday on a bill that will repeal West Virginia municipalities’ efforts at regulating firearms within their jurisdictions.
In a move that should show West Virginians that state lawmakers’ frequent refrain about the evils of one-size-fits-all state government are about as hollow as their good sense, the House, after just 25 minutes of debate, voted 94-4 to overturn ordinances in Charleston, South Charleston, Dunbar and in Martinsburg that prohibit weapons in city-owned properties, and in the case of Charleston, to repeal a law that prohibits handgun purchases to people awaiting criminal charges or who have received mental health care, that requires a 72-hour waiting period and that limits purchases of guns to three a month.
In their collective wisdom, lawmakers found such provisions an abridgment of West Virginians’ Second Amendment rights, a curious interpretation, given that Charleston’s law embraced no restrictions on law-abiding ownership, but instead sought to regulate the practice of so-called “straw buying” and of drug dealers exchanging guns for drugs.
In the case of Martinsburg and its five-year-old gun law, the House bill means guns would still be prohibited in City Hall, as per state law, but Martinsburg could no longer regulate their presence in other buildings the city owns.
In their defense of Charleston’s ordinance, Delegates Meshea Poole and Danny Wells asked lawmakers to consider the very real problem of drug abuse and crime in the Mountain State.
Not good enough for Boone County Republican Joshua Nelson, who said, “The Constitution does not say a person has a right to bear arms in 72 hours,” nor for Delegate Woody Ireland, who said Charleston’s law meant having to make two trips to Cabela’s. Indeed, said Kanawha County Democrat Mark Hunt, the bill would be a boon to the outdoor and sporting goods retailer, which has recently opened an 80,000-square-foot store in Charleston. It’s Ireland’s convenience to shop is what he doesn’t want abridged, it seems.
Gun rights supporters have sharply criticized gun control advocates for shamelessly exploiting the tragedy in Connecticut as an excuse to curtail gun ownership. The facts, however, reveal a far different reality. Since, Newtown, firearms and ammunition sales have multiplied, as has ramped-up rhetoric about nonexistent assaults to the Second Amendment, while long-standing laws that sought to reasonably regulate the trafficking and carrying of firearms in public areas have bitten the dust.
With gun laws, as with so very much in West Virginia, one size does fit all.
The House has turned the inherent freedom of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms on its head, effectively telling all of us the acceptance of the presence of guns in the public realm is a requirement, a burden we all must share, and nullifying the ability of a local jurisdiction to determine on its own what it wants its public spaces to be like.