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Charleston challenges W.Va. gun law in court

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Charleston officials want a Kanawha County circuit judge to decide whether or not the city’s municipal recreation centers qualify as educational facilities under state law.

If the judge agrees with the city’s arguments, Charleston would be able to continue to ban firearms from its recreation centers.

The complaint stems from Senate Bill 317, which was signed into law by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin earlier this week.

The new law changes how municipalities can regulate firearms on municipal property.

One of the provisions of the bill requires cities to allow licensed concealed carry firearms into municipal recreation centers, which are 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.”

However, state law also bans all firearms from being carried “on a school bus… 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.”

Charleston officials believe that since the city’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center houses a Head Start program and other recreation centers host after-school programs, those facilities count as education facilities under state law.

Circuit Judge Carrie Webster has been assigned to the complaint.

The state law in question, Senate Bill 317, was changed several times since its introduction, and was passed unanimously by the Senate. In the House of Delegates, only five members voted against the bill – Nancy Guthrie, Meshea Poore and Danny Wells, all D-Kanawha; Mary Poling, D-Barbour; and Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson.

For most cities in the state, the new law generally expands their right to regulate firearms by eliminating a 1999 law that made city gun ordinances illegal except for those in effect at the time.

However, for Charleston, South Charleston and Dunbar – three of the four cities with pre-1999 gun ordinances – the new state law will reduce their ability to regulate guns due to the recreation center provision…

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