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Senate panel OKs gun bill to ban city laws barring permitless carry at events held on city streets

MORGANTOWN — Another gun bill moved a step forward in the state Senate Thursday afternoon.

The Government Organization Committee approved – in a divided voice vote – SB 96. It applies to limited-duration events held on city streets where traffic is blocked to create space for the vent and forbids a city from barring admission to people exercising what’s called constitutional carry.

The bill refers to various deadly weapons and pepper spray in general but focuses on constitutional carry of firearms: open carry or concealed carry without a license. Under current law, cities may choose to grant admission only to those who carry with a valid license.

The conversation focused mostly on Charleston examples — Foam at the Dome, a craft beer festival held in front of the Capitol; Live on the Levee, a summer music event held at the downtown waterfront – but the bill applies statewide.

Kevin Baker, Charleston city attorney, appeared to speak against the bill. He said he spoke with the city police chief, who said officers would feel better assured about public safety knowing that those who are carrying guns received the training needed to obtain license.

Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker, asked Baker if the city would face any liability if a shooting occurred and people were restricted form their right to defend themselves.

Baker said, “The city is sued all the time. We’re subject to lawsuits every day. The primary purpose municipalities have … is to provide police protection. We certainly strive to protect all of our citizens.”

David Fricks, a Kanawha County resident, appeared as a private citizen to support the bill.

Hosting an event where only a person with permit can come in, and denying constitutional carriers admission, creates a special class of people, he said. If someone is unable to pay for the NRA class and the permit fee, the city has given one group the right to defend themselves while taking away the right of another group.

Answering a question, his also speculated that a pedestrian simply passing through the area could inadvertently become a lawbreaker.

Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, talked about Panhandle beer fests, with people crammed into a small space drinking alcohol. Passing this bill might raise the insurance costs for those events and discourage those who wish to put them on. It also might be harder to recruit off=duty police officers for security, where the officers won’t know who’s carrying.

Sen. Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha, was concerned that law enforcement wasn’t consulted about the bill.

Sen. Corey Palumbo, also D-Kanawha, said, “We all try to be amateur constitutional scholars” about gun rights. But a U.S. Supreme Court ruling authored by the late Antonin Scalia, a conservative icon, said states may regulate firearms.

Palumbo cited the Legislature’s many gun bills, its lack of renewable energy bills, its opposition to human rights fairness legislation. He said people are leaving in droves and they wonder why.

 “I just don’t understand why we continue to do these things. … I don’t think this will be a total disaster … but I do think it’s going to be another black eye. It’s going to be another reason for young people to look at us and say, ‘What are you doing?’”

Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, agreed with Palumbo that the Legislature should weigh in on gun regulation, and when the right to self-protection should be restricted, but took the opposite view of the bill. “I’m very happy to protect that freedom. … I would much rather live in a state where my constitutional rights are protected.”

The bill goes next to Senate Judiciary.

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