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Statehouse Beat: Buying guns in the city

Correction: An earlier version of this column incorrectly cited Cara Unger, wife of Senate Majority Leader John Unger, as the author of an email sent to legislators opposing the public education reform bill. The email's author was Shannon Unger, an elementary school teacher who lives in Martinsburg. John Unger said he and the author of the email are not related.

 

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- During the House of Delegates' floor debate on the bill to nullify city and county gun ordinances (HB2760), at least three delegates, including Delegate Mark Hunt, D-Kanawha, referred to the hardship Charleston's one-handgun-per-month limit imposed on the Cabela's outdoors superstore within the city limits.

(In fact, Delegate Woody Ireland, R-Ritchie, displayed his Cabela's rewards credit card -- which as was pointed out, could constitute an Ethics Act violation, since he was alluding to potential private gain if the bill passes.)

In fact, there was no formal request -- and as best I can determine, no informal inquiries --from Cabela's executives seeking passage of HB2760.

As we've experienced twice in West Virginia, Cabela's does incredible amounts of research on site selection -- and frequently negotiate tax breaks, zoning, and other concessions from localities as conditions for locating a store.

Cabela's leadership knew about Charleston's handgun ordinance, and evidently did not consider it an impediment to locating an 80,000-square-foot store in the city, or they would have come to City Council to get the ordinance repealed or modified.

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I've yet to set foot in Cabela's, but I suspect handguns make up a small percentage of sales in a store that sells all manner of hunting, fishing, boating, camping, and outdoors equipment.

Ironically, the day after the House passed HB2760, Cabela's stock jumped 13 percent, on reports that first-quarter same-store sales percentages were up by the mid-teens.

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A reader wanted to know how much campaign money the NRA had given to the bill's sponsors. A spot-check of the lead sponsor, Delegate Rupert Phillips, D-Logan, or ranking delegates (Boggs, Miley, White) showed no contributions from the NRA's political action arm.

However, it is interesting to look at the sponsors' home counties: Logan (2), Lincoln (2), Harrison, Braxton, Mingo (2), Raleigh, Randolph and Upshur. Only two of the 11 sponsors live in cities of any size.

A good analogy would be if rural legislators introduced a bill to outlaw traffic lights statewide. After all, they're an inconvenience for drivers, their constituents don't like them, and their home districts statistically have fewer traffic accidents despite not having traffic signals.

In that scenario, residents of Charleston, Huntington, Morgantown, and other traffic-congested cities would be rightfully perturbed that rural legislators were attempting to impose a law on them that would assuredly make their city streets more dangerous.

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It's notable that House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, a co-sponsor of HB2760, tweeted a copy of Friday's Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram editorial, basically calling on legislators to stop showboating on guns and get to work on key issues this session such as public education reform and prison overcrowding.

"There are other important issues to deal with, and we're already half-way through the session," the editorial stated. "Some people in Charleston need to stop pounding their chests and showing off for the NRA and get down to business."

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Speaking of public education reform (SB359), for many years, teachers unions had a safe harbor in the House Education Committee, where bills they opposed were destined to die or get watered down beyond recognition -- but no more.

Last year, Democrats had a 16-9 majority on the committee, but now the margin is down to 13-11, and gone are such teachers' union-friendly delegates as Brady Paxton, Mike Caputo, Ricky Moye, Ralph Rodighiero and Walter Duke.

My initial, completely unscientific headcount on SB359 in House Education: 10 yeas, 10 nays, four too close to call.

*Ironic sign of the week: "30 years of progress ... erased," held by one of the teacher union members protesting the education reform bill last week.

Considering that we're currently ranked 49th in student achievement, unless he was counting 57 states like President Obama once did, how much progress could there have been in public education since 1983?

Speaking of, between my nearsightedness, cataract, PVD, and refusal to get bifocals, no one will accuse Uncle Phil of having eagle eyes, but I have to admit I initially mistook Tuesday's rally for a slightly larger than normal state employee smoke break.

Upon closer observation, the joint WVEA, AFT-WV and AFL-CIO rally appeared to have fewer than two dozen participants at the rally.

That's a far cry from 1990, when some 8,000 teachers swarmed the Capitol grounds during the teachers' strike.

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Finally, when I said I recently joined Twitter as a condition of employment, I was being semi-humorous. However, I've come to learn that senior on-air personalities at Bray Cary's West Virginia Media stations were ordered to either set up Facebook pages or face five-day unpaid suspensions.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220. 


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