CHARLESTON, W.Va. — “WARNING: Children entering municipal recreation centers may be exposed to strangers carrying concealed weapons – W.Va. Senate Bill 317”
That’s the text of a possible sign that Charleston officials will place at entrances to city recreation centers if Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signs SB 317 into law.
One provision of the bill, which was passed by the Legislature last week, forces all municipalities in West Virginia to allow concealed carry firearms into municipally-owned recreation centers, which the Legislature legally defined as “any municipal swimming pool, recreation center, sports facility, facility housing an after-school program or other similar facility where children are regularly present.”
While Charleston officials oppose most of the bill, the recreation center provision has caused the most stir.
“We’re not going to make lockers for guns,” Mayor Danny Jones said during a media event at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Community Center in Charleston. “We’re not getting in the gun business. We’re not doing it. These places are not here for guns.”
Under SB 317, city-owned recreation centers would be required to allow concealed carry permit holders to brings guns into the facilities, a situation that has concerned Charleston officials.
In all, Charleston operates four public community centers and five public pools, though three of the pools are located at community centers. South Charleston and Dunbar also operate municipal recreation centers that would be affected. Both cities have laws that currently prohibit firearms in those facilities.
“It’s one thing for the state to actually sanction…the carrying of pistols in this rec center,” Jones said.
Jones said Charleston may be able to prevent guns at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Community Center because the center serves as a Head Start location operated by Kanawha County Schools, which he believes automatically makes possession of a firearm illegal under W.Va. Code §61-7-11A.
That law makes it a felony to possess a firearm or deadly weapon on “a school bus…or in or on a public or private primary or secondary education building, structure, facility or grounds including a vocational education building, structure, facility or grounds where secondary vocational education programs are conducted or at a school-sponsored function.”
“That says ‘Kanawha County Schools’ and I think that gives us a legal leg to stand on,” Jones said, pointing to a sign above the Head Start entrance at the recreation center…