CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee admits the language within a provision in the new gun law Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed last week is “not crystal clear.”
That provision states a municipality cannot prevent a person with a valid concealed carry permit from carrying a lawfully owned firearm into a municipally-owned recreation facility and “securely storing the firearm out of view and access to others during their time at the municipally owned recreation facility.”
“I can agree that that language is subject to multiple interpretations,” said Sen. Corey Palumbo (D-Kanawha, 17).
“I think the intent of that was to say that, if the rec center has a place in the rec center that would enable the person with a concealed carry permit to lock it away so there’s no way anyone else could get to it, then they can do that.” Otherwise, Palumbo said, the gun would have to be left locked in a vehicle.
But those with the National Rifle Association, which pushed for the language in the law during the legislative session, read that part of it differently.
“If the rec center doesn’t have a locker that’s secure, I have to leave it in my car or I have to keep it on me,” said NRA spokesperson Catherine Mortensen.
Palumbo disagreed with the NRA’s interpretation.
“The intent, in my opinion the whole way, was there’s a place you can secure it and lock it away when you’re in there, not that you can walk around the rec center, wherever you want, with it.”
The City of Charleston has already filed for a declaratory judgment seeking clarity in Kanawha County Circuit Court. City officials have argued the recreational centers are really schools because they house Head Start and afterschool programs.
The law does allow cities to enact ordinances that prohibit or regulate the carrying or possessing of firearms in municipally owned or operated buildings.
“To me, it would have been much cleaner and simpler to just say, ‘Municipalities can regulate possession and carrying of guns in municipal buildings. Period.’ And what we’ve done is essentially say, ‘Municipal buildings except rec centers,'” said Palumbo.
The recreation center provision is part of a larger gun law. Overall, SB 317 takes guns out of the Home Rule process and, instead, limits all municipalities to regulations defined already in state and federal gun laws.
Supporters said it brings more uniformity to gun regulations across West Virginia.