The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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March 16, 2013

Lawmaker says he was threatened over firearms legislation

CHARLESTON — Passions are running at a fever pitch over a House bill aimed at voiding gun restrictions in four West Virginia cities, and the chairman of a key Senate committee says his life has been threatened by one firearms advocate.

Exactly a week ago, the House approved, with four dissenting votes, HB2760 that would wipe out municipal firearms ordinances in Charleston, South Charleston, Nitro and Martinsburg.

“It started getting ugly within 24 hours,” Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, said Friday. “I think people just don’t understand the process.”

Snyder chairs the Senate Committee on Government Organization, the first stop for the House measure, and pressure began to mount on him to move the legislation.

“It turned very, very ugly,” Snyder said.

One caller threatened him over the bill and Snyder said it “absolutely” was one to do bodily harm to him.

“We’re getting hundreds of calls about it,” he said of the bill.

“Some pretty nasty calls. Some threatening calls. I have been personally threatened. One person said, ‘If you don’t run that bill, you won’t go home from Charleston.” Snyder said he took the threat seriously, “enough that security is telling my staff how to handle these and when to turn them in.”

“It’s against the law to do that, threaten legislators,” the Eastern Panhandle lawmaker said.

Snyder emphasized that the National Rifle Association isn’t behind such calls and apologized for the threat while moving to distance itself from the abuse.

“It’s unproductive,” he said of verbal abuse. “It’s counter-productive.”

Snyder said he met in his office with representatives from the NRA to discuss the legislation, which is high on its radar screen in this session. Altogether, the Legislature is looking at some 30-plus firearms bills.

House bills routinely aren’t taken up until later in the session, and the Senate has had its hands full the past two weeks dealing with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s education reform package, he pointed out.

“We’re very, very busy on Senate issues right now and that’s normal,” Snyder said.

“We deal with Senate bills and Senate rules and so forth.”

Snyder noted that West Virginia law, since 1982, forbids any municipality from adopting ordinances that restrict gun ownership, but the four cities targeted in the House bill were grandfathered in.

“In effect, all it (HB2760) does is nullify ordinances in those four cities,” he said.

“No other city can do this and haven’t been able to do it since 1982. This is a very old issue. It’s been litigated through the courts. It has nothing to do with any other area of the state, except those four cities. It’s been that way since prior to 1982. It’s that simple.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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