See our Preemption of Local Laws policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.
West Virginia law broadly preempts the power of local governments to regulate firearms or ammunition. Specifically, the statute prohibits municipalities from:
[B]y ordinance or otherwise, limit[ing] the right of any person to purchase, possess, transfer, own, carry, transport, sell or store any revolver, pistol, rifle or shotgun or any ammunition or ammunition components to be used therewith [or] regulat[ing] the keeping of gunpowder so as to directly or indirectly prohibit the ownership of the ammunition in any manner inconsistent with or in conflict with state law.1
The exceptions to preemption authorize a municipality to prohibit or regulate the:
- Carry or possession of a firearm in municipal buildings
- Carry or possession of a firearm openly or that is not lawfully concealed in municipal recreational facilities. The municipality may not, however, prohibit a person with a concealed handgun permit from carrying an otherwise lawfully possessed firearm into a municipally owned recreation facility if the firearms are stored securely out of view and access to others during their time at the facility.
- Carry or possession of firearms on municipally owned property other than buildings and recreational facilities by individuals without concealed carry licenses2
These exceptions are limited by the following conditions:
- The terms of an ordinance regulating firearms at municipal buildings and recreation facilities must be posted at the building or facility.3
- A person may keep an otherwise lawfully possessed firearm in a motor vehicle in municipal public facilities if the vehicle is locked and the firearm is out of view.4
As of the date this page was last updated, Giffords Law Center is not aware of any significant case law interpreting West Virginia’s preemption statute.
Other Statutory Provisions
Additionally, municipalities are not authorized to restrict the lawful carrying of firearms on public streets unless pedestrian or vehicular traffic is prohibited in an area for the purpose of a temporary event. In that case, individuals with concealed handgun licenses may be prohibited from possessing a firearm in the event area.5
Section 8-12-5a is not to be read to limit the authority of West Virginia municipalities the general power to enact and enforce ordinances to “arrest, convict and punish” individuals for illegally carrying or possessing handguns or to restrict the commercial use of real estate in designated areas through planning or zoning ordinances.6
County commissions, like municipalities, are denied authority to regulate the purchase, possession, transfer, ownership, carrying, transportation, sale or storage of firearms and ammunition.7 However, this provision does not prohibit local governments from regulating “the commercial use of real estate in designated areas through planning or zoning ordinances.”8
See our page on Immunity Statutes in West Virginia for information regarding lawsuits by local governments against shooting ranges and the gun industry.