CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — To enforce an existing ban on weapons in the building, gun-friendly West Virginia will limit the number of public entrances at its Capitol and make visitors walk through metal detectors starting Jan. 8, the state Division of Protection Services announced Wednesday.
Visitors will be funneled through one public entrance on the Capitol’s west wing beginning on Jan. 8, according to a statement. An east wing entrance will also be available during legislative sessions, and will open Jan. 10 for the upcoming session.
The security change, supported by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the Legislature and the Supreme Court, puts West Virginia in line with the majority of other states. Nationwide, 28 state capitols have metal detectors, two only have armed guards and 20 have no metal detectors, the National Conference of State Legislatures said in September.
The new policy also comes more than a year after the Legislature and Tomblin approved a law letting people carry firearms into many city swimming pools, tennis courts and recreation centers hosting afterschool activities. The law applies to people with concealed carry permits and requires them to keep their weapons “out of view and access to others.” Both Democratic and Republican leaders in West Virginia have recently ushered in other protections for gun owners.
“Our Capitol is one of the most beautiful Capitol buildings in the country, and we want to encourage West Virginians and visitors alike to visit and learn more about our state,” Tomblin said in a news release. “We must also do everything in our power to ensure the safety of our employees and visitors, especially our school children, while maintaining open access for all.”
Visitors will pass through metal detectors and an X-ray machine will scan their items. People who have electronic access cards to the Capitol, including state employees and certain members of the media, can still go through any door. Security personnel won’t store any items that aren’t allowed in, ranging from guns to pepper spray.
The rest of the buildings on the Capitol campus currently have similar security measures. The Supreme Court, situated in the Capitol itself, currently uses metal detectors and an X-ray machine while in session.
Weapons are already illegal throughout the Capitol Complex for the general public, with very few exceptions. Concealed carry permit holders can leave their guns locked in cars in the parking lot, for example.
Some lawmakers, including Republican Del. Michael Ihle, oppose the additional Capitol security.
“We look like hypocrites when we are willing to protect gun rights everywhere except for the place we work and make controversial decisions,” said the Jackson County lawmaker, who would rather guns be allowed in the Capitol.
The change will cost about $400,000 a year, mostly for hiring additional people to staff the entrances, said Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety spokesman Lawrence Messina. The state already has much of the equipment it needs, since it has looked into heightened security multiple times since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
There are currently 13 entrances — 11 of them public — with 17 doors throughout the Capitol, Messina said.
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