Journalism in the Public Interest

Now, You Can’t Ban Guns at the Public Pool

In a decades-long campaign to deny cities the power to regulate guns, even the smallest local rules are now coming under attack.

An attendee wears a 2nd amendment shirt while inspecting a rifle during the 2013 NRA Annual Meeting and Exhibits on May 5, 2013 in Houston, Texas. In a decades-long campaign to deny cities the power to regulate guns, even the smallest local rules are now coming under attack. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

If you feel unsafe at a public pool in Charleston, W.Va., you may soon have the right to lie there on a towel with a handgun at your side.

For 20 years, Charleston has been an island of modest gun restrictions in a very pro-gun rights state. But its gun laws — including a ban on guns in city parks, pools and recreation centers — are now likely to be rolled back, the latest victory in a long-standing push to deny cities the power to regulate guns.

Since the 1980s, the National Rifle Association and other groups have led a successful campaign to get state legislatures to limit local control over gun regulations. These "preemption" laws block cities from enacting their own gun policies, effectively requiring cities with higher rates of gun violence to have the same gun regulations as smaller towns.

Before 1981, when an Illinois town banned the possession of handguns, just a handful of states had preemption laws on the books. Today, 42 states block cities from making gun laws, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Even Illinois, which has long allowed its cities to pass gun control measures, is about to invalidate local restrictions on concealed handguns and ban any future local regulation of assault weapons.

Gun rights advocates argue that allowing cities to have their own gun laws creates an impossible situation for law-abiding gun owners, who cannot be expected to read ordinances for every town they might pass through.

The preemption campaign has racked up so many victories nationwide, it's now focusing on holdouts like Charleston, population 51,000.

Charleston's current gun restrictions include a three-day waiting period to buy a handgun, and a limit of one handgun purchase per month, as well as bans on guns on publicly owned property, such as parks and pools.

West Virginia Delegate Patrick Lane crafted an amendment to an unrelated state bill, now passed, that will likely force Charleston to erase those restrictions.

"Crime could happen anyplace. You obviously want to be able to defend yourself and your family if something happens," Lane said, when asked why anyone would want to bring a gun to a public pool.

The NRA did not respond to requests for comment, but its website calls Charleston's restrictions "misguided" and "unreasonable." Its site has closely tracked the progress of the repeal of the ordinances, which it states "would have no negative impact whatsoever on Charleston." The site has repeatedly criticized Charleston's Republican mayor for "speaking out publicly against this pro-gun reform."

It's not clear what effect the spread of preemption has had on public safety. "It's very hard to determine what causes crime to go up and down, because there are so many variables," said Laura Cutilletta, a senior attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

But in Charleston, Police Chief Brent Webster says he's worried about losing the city's current restrictions, in particular the law banning guns at city pools, concerts and sporting events.

"You will have some citizens say, 'I can do that now, so I'm going to do that,'" Webster said. "I am greatly concerned."

"When they're diving off the diving board, is that [gun] going to be in a book bag? Is that going to be lying under their towel and an eight-year-old kid is walking through the pool area and picks it up?"

Two of the city's former police chiefs also say they're worried about losing the ban on guns in public places that attract kids.

"That has nothing to do with the Second Amendment right. It has to do with public safety," former Chief Dallas Staples said.

Charleston's mayor, Danny Jones, who's fought to keep the gun restrictions, said the city now has no choice but to do what the state legislature wants and roll them back. The state legislature packaged the rollback requirement with a popular measure giving Charleston more leeway in how it raises taxes.

"I'm still reeling from all this, because it's going to affect us in a very negative way," Jones told reporters after the law passed.

Keith Morgan, president of the West Virginia Citizen's Defense League, a gun rights group, said the group been pushing for an end to Charleston's ordinances for years, and that the change would protect law-abiding gun owners from a "minefield" of conflicting local laws.

Lane, the West Virginia delegate, also said that gun-owning commuters were put at risk as they traveled through different cities with different rules.

But neither Lane nor Morgan could cite an example of a gun owner being prosecuted for accidentally breaking the law during their commute, or by accidentally wandering into a city park. When Morgan himself once showed up at the Charleston Civic Center with a gun, he said, he was simply asked to leave, and he did. In lawsuits the West Virginia Citizen's Defense League filed against gun ordinances in Charleston and Martinsburg, the plaintiffs cited their fear of potential prosecution.

The main burden of Charleston's laws for gun owners has been the inconvenience of waiting three days to purchase a handgun, and only being able to buy one handgun at a time — something that can be particularly troublesome "if you're buying a present for your family and there happens to be a Christmas sale at the retailer," Lane said.

Former Charleston law enforcement officers say the handgun restrictions, passed in 1993, helped the city tamp down on the drugs-for-guns trade that was rampant at the time. But since then, gun stores have sprung up right at the city's borders, said Steve Walker, a former Charleston police officer and now president of the West Virginia branch of the Fraternal Order of Police.

"Honestly, I don't know whether with them repealing it, it is going to help them or hurt them," Walker said of the handgun restrictions.

State legislators said that city officials are overplaying their fears.

"I don't see everyone with a concealed carry permit deciding to go to a pool and carry a gun," said Democrat Mark Hunt, a state delegate, "So what if they do? They're law-abiding citizens."

Charleston’s mayor said he has a plan if somebody brings a gun poolside: “We're going to close down the pool."

Fist, I agree with Hunt.  Law-abiding citizens with guns aren’t going to shoot the guns.

Second, there’s a clear solution.  Bringing a gun into a place where everybody is fairly vulnerable is pretty easily argued as a Simple Assault, a threat of bodily harm (because there’s no other reason to be the only person with a gun, and there’s no way to casually carry a gun at the pool) with a clear means of enacting that threat (the gun) that results in no bodily harm.  It’s a felony.  No special gun law required.

John isn’t from WV which is an “open carry” state.  In other words, unless posted other wise, any person not prohibited by federal law from possessing a handgun can carry it openly for all to see.  The State law STILL gives property owners the right to refuse entry to anyone carrying a gun concealed or otherwise. 

This is the point all in Charleston have missed.  They can still prohibit people from carrying a gun at events inside city owned buildings and enclosed property.  Since the City of Charleston owns several pools they can post a “no weapons allowed” sign and anyone found to carry a gun can be cited for trespassing under WV law if they refuse to leave with the gun.  Many businesses have done this and there is no reason the City of Charleston can’t do this to places like City Hall, pools, and the Civic Center.

There are many school events held at the Civic Center like high school basketball tournaments, graduations, and more.  Other State laws cover guns for this as well.  If it is a sanctioned school event of a school that is a high school or below, it is a FELONY to bring a gun in to that event regardless if it is held on school property or not.  For some reason this State law even applies to law enforcement offices unless they are in their “official capacity” (WV Code 61-7-11a).

It is really much ado about nothing.  Walker is right.  There were a lot of straw purchases being made and the guns shipped to the north east.  Many of the straw purchasers involved were Job Corps students from the north east.  They didn’t have cars so they couldn’t get to a lot of the gun stores outside of the city thus the City’s ordinance.  They did adapt and started using gun stores all over and in my city.  We would just watch for cabs outside of gun stores and alert the ATF and gun store.  Not much was done other than stopping the purchase.

Fast forward 20 years and you still have just as many straw purchasers.  Those straw purchasers really have never been prosecuted like they should be.  It was slightly better under both Bush appointed US Attorneys.  But Clinton’s & Obama’s appointees just don’t do as well here prosecuting gun crimes.

So, what will happen to the gun owner if an eight-year-old, walking by, picks up the gun and shoots it while the owner is on the diving board?
    I’m all for gun ownership AND strict liability for the weapon.  If you own a gun and someone else uses it to cause damage at a swimming pool, mall, theatre or school, it is your problem. 
    Right now, it seems to be everyone else’s problem.
    If the Second Amendment is going to be absolute, so should the gun owner’s liability.

“The State law STILL gives property owners the right to refuse entry to anyone carrying a gun concealed or otherwise.”

Except in this case, the property owner is the State. That mean that the property owner is “THE PEOPLE” and all of the people, not just those who don’t like guns or do like guns.

So, unless you would like to see the state of W. Virginia denying the use of public facilities to certain groups of people based on something other than actual, realized, non-fictional, actions, then you have to allow all to use these facilities until the individual actor screws up.

This is where the writer intentionally misses the point: public places belong to You and me. She simply uses the public pool in order to paint a ridiculous picture.

“Bringing a gun into a place where everybody is fairly vulnerable is pretty easily argued as a Simple Assault,”

That’s an absurd argument. Driving down the road every day, there are many, many opportunities to assult countless pedestrians, bicylists, motocyclists, etc. A 3,000lb vehicle, traveling at 45mph has far more potential kenetic energy than any man-portable firearm. So, by the same absurd logic, those drivers (all drivers) can/should be charged with Simple Assult.

“because there’s no other reason to be the only person with a gun, and there’s no way to casually carry a gun at the pool”

Nonsense. How can you be certain that there are no other weapons? Can you defend yourself or others against 3-4 adversaries? Have you ever tried to fight even 2 people, bare handed?

As far as concealing said weapon, have you heard of a fanny pack, backpack, gym bag? All of which are commonly found near pools, provide concealment (for those who are weak of heart), and ready access.

Stephanie Palmer

June 3, 2013, 2:51 p.m.

I’ve never had any qualms about paying my taxes. But given that I support these public areas with my tax money, I’m very uncomfortable with using them, what with all the old guys running around legally with their squirrel guns.  I haven’t been in a national park for a few years because of my idiot congress allowing the same squirrel gun toters loose in the parks.  Doesn’t seem fair.

I’m pretty sure that if somebody leaves their gun laying around the pool while they swim, they’ll be arrestable under Endangerment laws.  I doubt people will actually bring pistols to the poolside, unless someone develops a bikini holster.

Doug Petersen

June 3, 2013, 3:53 p.m.

Dangerous Citizens is an anthem related to this very subject…and you can listen to it here…for FREE!

By simply amending the outdated amendments in this digital age and by inexpensive e-voting we/ the people can make sure to have digitally the power of home and foreign politics in honest & good hands and of course out of evil grips of super-wealthy thugs in disguise of noble men, gun -makers, dealers, direct or indirectly benefiting private users their of, kings, queens etc.- (that by heredity contemplate in Saudi-Amir style, to easily continue living lives of too luxurious-filthy-wealthiest abusing the power of gun-based politicking and the fruits of less or un-paid hard labors of others).

I love West Virginia.

Warner Anderson

June 3, 2013, 5:22 p.m.

Adequate state laws are on the books already; removing the city’s ban in public places does nothing to weaken them. It’s a little alarming that city officials don’t seem to understand their power and responsibility to “hammer” negligent users of firearms. <break> I just have to say it: “Is that a gun in your Speedos, or are ya happy ta see me?”

Sidney Thompson

June 3, 2013, 6:43 p.m.

Okay, the whole idea that we need to “carry” to protect ourselves and our families should save a lot of money.  We won’t really need cops any more - oh, traffic cops and CSI to work out who shot first, but the beat cop won’t be needed as every one will have to “carry” cause everyone else is. Guess my grandkids won’t be able to play street hockey without an adult for protection and grannie won’t be able to go to the store with out someone who “carries” as she may be to old for a fast draw.  Wonder what all that protection will cost.  Oh, sounds like the Wild West to me.

Police love to use menacing laws against open carry users. Luckily courts have defined menacing as acting with “intent”.  Being charge with “simple assault”?  Whoever believes this, I would love to take your money in a civil rights lawsuit.

West Virginia is a great place for the government to leave you alone. The only person who brings a gun to a swimming pool in this state is the policeman protecting your kids.

If someone leaves a car running while they go in to a store, and another someone takes that car, (theft) and causes damage with it, is the original owner whose property was taken (stolen) liable for the damages from taht someone elses criminal activity?

We have reached a new level of absurd. Why should we have to wait for someone to behave negligently when we’re talking about safety at a public pool? Because the gun lobby says so? Come on people, have some pride. We live together in shared spaces. We don’t have to put up with radicals taking them over.

“Why should we have to wait for someone to behave negligently when we’re talking about safety at a public pool?”

Simple: because you are punishing the entire body for the possible, but not probable, actions of a few or even one.

We don’t jail for what an individual might do, but for what he/she has done.

By your absurd logic, someone could run over dozens with a car (and it has happened many times), therefore, nobody should be allowed to drive a car.

The typical NRA member doesn’t make the connection the group’s activities have on people, especially kids in inner cities (and they probably don’t listen to NPR either, unfortunately):

The Second Amendment is public safety.

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

June 3, 2013, 11:33 p.m.

Logan, yes, in some states. This is one reason we have liability insurance on autos.

Now, it seems like the city officals should quit whinning and wringing their hands and take action. It seems as if they would put in place some carry concealed weapons classes and educate the public on the responsibilities that go along with ownership of firearms, it would serve the public better. I guess they would rather point fingers and assign blame, which is not productive at all. Kind of like the author of the article.

Government schools have indoctrinated more than educated people to fear an inantimate object. Ever wonder where the bottom of this rabbit hole is? Maybe that it is only safe for those in government costumes to have the guns? Look in the mirror and ask yourself what is really happening, use some critical thinking skills. Look up the word democide.



Think about it.





Karen, I agree 100%.  I don’t understand why story after story about guns begin with theft or some untrained and irresponsible individual picking up a weapon, but there’s never a push to have gun owners—who I agree are largely responsible people—take responsibility.

If you cheaped it out on your gun safe, you contributed to the resulting homicide when it’s stolen.  Unlike asking the government for permission before every purchase or random pat-downs just in case, that’s a solution that solves many problems without infringing on anybody’s freedom.

Oh, wait.  I think I just answered my own question.  Politicians can’t pit us against each other with solutions that work…

I’m from the UK so am amazed that people can obtain firearms so easily. I assume you have to pass a driving test before you can drive a car or fly an aeroplane, how about applying the same logic to gun ownership. You have to demonstrate you fully understand how to operate and maintain a firearm plus the responsibility associated with ownership to a national standard before you can purchase/use a registered firearm. It’s a thought.

Since gun owership, according to the NRA, the gun manufacturers, the TEA Party, and others is a requirement both to preserve our freedom and our safety, how about they do their patriotic duty and supply guns, ammunition, and gun safety courses at cost to all legal residents of the USA?  If they truly believe and mean what they preach, then they should be more than willing to eliminate the profit motive so everyone in the USA legally can afford to have all the guns and ammunitions they feel they need; after “what price freedom?”

“Have you ever tried to fight even 2 people, bare handed?”

I’ve long suspected that many gun nutters( as opposed to sane gun owners) are -  in fact - cowards. Good to see one admit it.

yearafter year we continure to shoot our own citizens. We are the number one terroist group. I own a rifle and i support reasonable gun controrl.Down with legal murder.

If you think that your right to bear stems from constitutional literalism, or a comstituional “original intent”, then you mean that it only covers the “firearms” of the time that the drafters and signers meant.  So, no problem with you “right to bear” only includes a muzzle-loader rifle and one-shot pistol.

I do not support guns @poolside. I beleive we should have reasonable gun controls and this proposal is not one of them

No liberty can be unlimited; no right unrestricted.

Les, I agree with you completely. Liberty is not free. We must fight for it. The gov’t is more dangerous than anyone who feels it their right to carry at a swimming pool.

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

June 4, 2013, 8 p.m.

Les, by your reasoning then, since electronic media did not exist only print and speech existed when the bill of rights was penned, you therefore do not need the right to free speech nor a free press. Since free exchange of ideas was a threat to the Empire of Great Britan…hmmm, maybe it would be a threat to any tyranny.

So excersize your right to free press and free speach. You just cannot use electronic media, since it did not exist.

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

June 4, 2013, 8:08 p.m.

Today, 4:15 p.m.
No liberty can be unlimited; no right unrestricted

That’s right Les! We need big government to restrict our liberty!

It will not only cost you about 30% of your total income, it will restrict your freedoms quite well.

Pro Publica can finally drop the fig leaf of neutrality that has been wavering in the breeze since its founding.

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

June 6, 2013, 7:55 a.m.

Bill, I believe you are right.

No, James, the Second Amendment is NOT public safety. Why do so many overlook the first words of the Amendment “A WELL REGULATED MILITIA…”  The Second Amendment specifically refers to REGULATION!!!!!

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

June 6, 2013, 8:29 p.m.

EdCox, regulation, when the Bill of Rights was written, meant in good working order.

So excercise your right to free press and free speach. You just cannot use electronic media, since it did not exist.
What do you think?

EdCox, why does the government need 2 million rounds of ammunition that is, Homeland Security, what do they need so much ammunition for? It is not the military, it is hollow point ammuntion that is not legal for military use, it is made to maim or kill, not for target practice. Why are so many military type and former military vehicles showing up on our streets with POLICE on the side of them? Why is the military and our local police agencies holding drills all throughout our nation in our neighborhoods?
Why are our government agencies storing our e-mails, tracking our phone calls and locations, and pulling up this information after going to a “secret court” to get a warrant? Why do so many of our police look like storm troopers? Like they could have just came in from a miltary patrol in another country?

Our Peace Officers in this country, God help them, deserve all of our prayers for they have a difficult, stressful job. For those Police Officers that are guilty of abusing authority, and blindly following unconstitutional orders, I have to say they need prosecuting. We do not want to live in a neo-police state.

Our country is spinning out of control, our government is totally becoming a control grid that has intentions of controlling the population, if you cannot see it you must be blind. All in the guise of keeping us safe? Safe from what?

I used to have a pet bird I kept in a cage. I was able to keep him quite safe.

Under NDAA laws, we can be hauled off with no rights whatsoever and be tortured to confess of our crimes!

I ask you, do we have more to fear from terrorists, or our own government?

John, Your post is right on.

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

June 6, 2013, 9:19 p.m.

I do not mean to insult or offend anyone. This is not my intention.

Do some research on your own, turn off the TV propoganda box and look into some things on your own. Use some critical thinking skills. Most of the people that visit this site are intelligent.

I do think some are uninformed. All I ask of you is to do some of your own research and think for yourself.

Sort some of the facts out of all the noisy political static.

We are witnessing a nation that has become a nation of people that do not trust our government, and we are armed. Some are afraid of the government. This is not a situation we want to live into our future, and we certainly do not want our children and grandchildren to live in this tense pattern of existance.

Most of us would just like to pay our taxes and the government leave us alone. Well, on second thought, maybe not LIKE to pay our taxes. Anyway, we do not want to live in a total grid of control and have to pay for it in the process.

Please, those of you that are afraid to go to public parks, because the drug dealers and thugs have taken over the parks and public places, ask yourself if you and your neighbors could be armed in these places, do you think the thugs might decide to go elsewhere? Would you rather go to a national park that has hunters with guns that must have training and a license to be there, would you rather go to a national park with them, or, would you rather go to a “gun free zone” and dodge all the drug dealers and thugs?  If you are not going to carry a gun, fine, that is your right NOT to own or carry a gun.

Forrest L. Buckley

June 9, 2013, 11:46 a.m.

I am amused by the frequent use of the term,” law abiding citizen” by gun supporters.  Let us be honest, there aren’t many real law abiding citizens among us!  As for the second amendment being so important, why was it an after thought?  Did the founders really feel that everyone should have a gun for their own protection or as part of being a member of a well REGULATED militia? 

I am surprised the supporters of gun ownership would support a proposed modification of a law adopted at the local level by a state legislature.  I have always been told that tea party folks, conservatives and the like believed in local control.  It doesn’t seem to be the case in this instance.

Honestly, I’m more afraid of the people who feel they need to carry a gun with them when they go to the pool or to church or to the grocery store than I am of the “bad guys” whose presence supposedly necessitates having guns everywhere. These are the kind of people who shoot first, think later and cause accidental deaths.

Local laws cannot preempt State laws, just as state laws cannot preempt Federal Laws. Why is that so hard for people to understand.

If the citizens of any state want to make carrying firearms inside municipal parks illegal they can do so. If owners of private property want to restrict people from entering their property while armed, they may do so. 

Stop whining and crying about unconstitutional laws and use the constitutional laws already on the books to get criminal thugs off the streets. Make people convicted of gun crimes liable to capital punishment if your jails get too full, but stop punishing innocent law abiding citizens.

“Law abiding gun owners,” snort. Everybody is law abiding until they stop abiding.  And, in fact, most Americans break a couple laws every week. And a lot more in April. 

I’ve owned a gun for 50 years and the irrational arguments of the gun fetishists make me sick.  “Only criminals will have guns,” barf.  Nobody is taking your gun away from you; it’s just that little man in your head, telling you to be afraid.  And criminals have so many guns because of the unlimited, all guns all the time network of gun distribution the NRA and its lackeys have created. And, most of the time, criminals are not interested in you unless you are in the same business they are. 

If you read over the pro-gun arguments, you see a display of fetishism in all its dictionary meanings. And a huge dose of Idaho cave dweller paranoia about the government.  If the government, or just a private citizen, wants to kill you specifically, thirty guns in your house aren’t going to protect you. (See the recent murder of the Texas DA and his wife.)  You have to wear a beanie on your head with a motorized swiveling turret carrying a double barreled, remotely triggered derringer. Draw up the plans, guys.  Maybe you can build one and wear it to the swimming pool.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:


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