By Lois Beckett, ProPublica
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.