Martinsburg Considers New Municipal Gun Laws

MARTINSBURG – Martinsburg City Council members will be asked to consider two new ordinances that deal with regulating firearms in the city during their regularly scheduled monthly meeting today.

“Senate Bill 317 invalidated our municipal code and we felt we needed to get some regulations back on the books,” Kin Sayre, the city’s legal counsel, said.

The ordinances are to bring the city into compliance with the new state code.

Last year, when the state Legislature extended and expanded the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program, it included language that prohibited municipalities from enacting ordinances regulating firearms.

This year, state lawmakers backtracked, eliminating several clauses prohibiting municipalities from enacting ordinances regulating firearms, but retained several clauses that do restrict a municipality’s ability to regulate where someone with a concealed carry permit can take a firearm.

The new law states “that a municipality may not prohibit a person with a valid concealed handgun permit from carrying an otherwise lawfully possessed 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.”

Recreation facilities 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.”

“The city did not necessarily have an ordinance dealing with recreational facilities,” Sayre said. “This would not apply to the Boys and Girls Club, because children are present and there are after-school programs held there.”

The City of Martinsburg owns the building and property at the corner of South Queen Street and West John Street where the Boys and Girls Club of the Eastern Panhandle operates its Berkeley County branch.

Martinsburg’s ordinance states “that under no circumstances may any person possess or carry or cause the possession or carrying of any firearm or other deadly weapon on the premises of any primary or secondary educational facility in this state unless such person is a law enforcement officer or he or she has the express written permission of the County School Superintendent.”

SB317 allows municipalities to prohibit firearms in a “municipally owned or operated building,” meaning “any building that is used for the business of the municipality, such as a courthouse, city hall, convention center, administrative building or other similar municipal building used for a municipal purpose permitted by state law.”

However, the law prohibits municipalities from forbidding someone with a concealed handgun permit to take it into buildings that the city owns and operates “that is leased to a private entity where the municipality primarily serves as a property owner receiving rental payments.”

“This mainly applies to the Market House,” Sayre said.

The city owns the property at the corner of North Queen Street and West Burke Street known as the Market House. The city leases space there to Habanero Mexican Grill restaurant and some offices.

The city also owns the Caperton Train Station, which includes the old train station and the old Berkeley Hotel. The city has remodeled the hotel and rents office space there. The train station is home to active stops on the MARC Brunswick commuter line and Amtrak Capitol Limited passenger line and the “for the kids, by George” children’s museum.

Sayre suspects the SB317 pertains to the hotel side of the train station.

“At this point in time, I think it’s covered under the primary landlord clause,” he said. “Is public transportation on the train station side a government activity? We’re looking at the statute to determine what the statute says. We don’t know.”

Because of the confusion over the language of the law, Sayre said there is the potential for the city to propose more ordinances in the future.

“It’s a poorly worded statute,” he said. “It makes it difficult to enforce. What does ‘secure it’ mean? Does that mean in a locker, a holster, a locked carry case? We need more direction.”

City ordinances must be read three times and garner a majority vote by council members to be enacted.