CHARLES TOWN – A state gun rights advocacy group will hold a rally here this weekend to force state Sen. Herb Snyder to bring to a vote a bill approved last week by the House of Delegates that would prevent municipalities from regulating firearms.
Art Thomm, the vice president of the West Virginia Citizens Defense League, said the bill came out of the House with overwhelming support. He said the group organized the rally based on its interpretation of statements Snyder made to Charleston newspapers that led members to believe he would keep the bill in committee.
“It goes over to Herb Snyder’s committee now, where it can hang out and die or come out. He is sitting in the drivers seat,” Thomm said.
The group will demonstrate in front of the Charles Town Courthouse Saturday from noon to 1:30 p.m.
A “call to action” was issued on the Citizens Defense League’s website shortly after HB 2760 passed out of the House and on to the Senate’s Government Organizations Committee, which Snyder chairs.
The West Virginia Citizens Defense League wrote the bill based on National Rifle Association legislation.
The bill, which passed the House by a vote of 94-4, nullifies the authority of counties and municipalities to regulate guns, reserving that power for the state legislature.
It would repeal ordinances in three Charleston-area municipalities and one passed by Martinsburg in 2008 that sought to limit the presence of guns in public places.
Another would also repeal an ordinance enacted by Charleston in the 1990s barred handgun purchases by people with pending criminal charges, required a 72-hour waiting period and limited handgun purchases to one a month.
Thomm said the House’s bill establishes a uniformity to gun legislation in the state.
“It removes unintended consequences of people potentially being convicted of criminal possession of a firearm in a situation where they shouldn’t be, because what they are doing is not illegal except in one specific city that has its own rules,” he said.
The organization had briefly considered canceling the event after Snyder received a number of intimidating calls and emails.
Snyder said the threats have been turned over to the Protective Services Division of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, which is currently investigating them.
“In some of them, about 10 or 12 calls and emails, were quite threatening. Once you cross that line, it’s a criminal offense,” Snyder said. “It is against the law to threaten a legislator, especially when they are in legislative session.”
Snyder said he understood the Citizens Defense League’s decision to apply pressure through phone call campaigns was a normal part of the democratic process.
“People feel passionate, and within less than 24 hours of my receiving the bill in my committee, my phone started ringing off the hook. That’s fine. We are used to that. That’s part of the process,” Snyder said, adding he didn’t want to be seen to be blaming Citizens Defense League for the threats, but said the group was involved in those first calls and email blasts and in setting up the demonstration.
“All this was done within 24 hours of me receiving the bill,” he said.
Thomm said his organization is unconnected with the threats. “We have nothing to do with it, nor would we tolerate anything like that from our membership,” he said. “We are confident that neither any part of the (West Virginia Citizens Defense League) nor any part of our membership had anything to do with these calls, or any threats.”
Snyder said he thinks the Citizens Defense League has overreacted by calling for a demonstration. He denied delaying the bill and said his committee must finish dealing with the large number of Senate bills on its plate before moving on to House bills.
“We are running Senate bills right now, it will be a while before we get to the House bills, whatever the subject is,” Snyder said. “Apparently that inflamed a lot of people. I guess they thought we should have taken the bill up on the floor immediately and passed it. That’s just not the way the process works.”
“My committee has been assigned well over 100 Senate bills,” Snyder said. “Crossover day is April 3, and then the Senate will only deal with House bills.”