State pistol laws have improved

In the 1920s, this state was nearly engulfed in the coal mine wars, and the Hatfield-McCoy family type feuds would often get out of control. In the early 1930s, the state legislature decided that West Virginia needed a law that would discourage pistol toting.

Like a lot of things that legislature would do back then, and even now, they went highly overboard when they implemented this new law.

Between the early 1930s to the early 1970s, it was extremely difficult for many of the citizens of this state to lawfully enjoy target shooting a pistol.

There was no license or permit required to purchase a pistol, but to carry in a lawful manor (on your person or in a vehicle) was a completely different story. Sport hunting with a handgun was expressly forbidden under this law.

To obtain a permit to carry a handgun during this period was a complex, expensive and time consuming task. First, the individual had to file a petition to the county circuit court judge and only in the county where they resided. On the petition, the individual had to give sufficient reasons why they should have a license to carry a handgun. Recreational target shooting or self-defense were reasons that were often rejected by the individual circuit court judge.

If the judge granted the person filing the petition permission to carry, then they had to be under a $3,500 bond before they could legally purchase the license to carry at the county clerk’s office. The license had to be renewed on a yearly basis. A few years later, this changed to every three years.

The first break in all of these many restrictions came in 1972, when the legislature approved of a new kind of hunting license that would permit legal resident hunters to be able to hunt using a handgun, but it was quite restrictive.

The handgun could not be larger than a .22 caliber (rimfire or centerfire), the barrel had to be at least four inches in length. While hunting, the pistol had to be carried in a holster to where it was clearly visible. When being transported in a vehicle, it had to be in a locked compartment that was not accessible to the occupants in the vehicle.

The big break in these handgun laws came in the mid 1980s when West Virginia voters approved of a state constitutional amendment that gave state citizens in good standing the right to possess firearms for self-defense, legal sport hunting, and recreational target shooting. Here is where the state supreme court told the legislature they would have to rewrite the state’s pistol laws.

As of May 24, 2016, West Virginia became a constitutional carry state. Any person 21 years or older, who is legally able to possess a firearm may carry a handgun concealed without any need of obtaining any license or permit to do so. However, a permit is required for individuals 18-20 years of age who wish to carry a handgun concealed. The carry permits are issued on a “shall issue” basis to anyone who would like one for reciprocity purposes. Today, adults (21 or older) concealed carry is totally accepted without a permit for those who are legally able to possess modern firearms.

Yes, West Virginia’s pistol laws have improved since the era of the, “Great Depression,” or the, “New Deal.” During this time to when the state passed a law permitting resident hunters to hunt with a handgun, West Virginia ranked with the states that have strict gun laws like California, New Jersey and New York. Today, West Virginia ranks with such states like Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming. Our firearms laws seem to fall under the category that can be deemed as the least restrictive in the United States.

The State Constitutional Provision states under Article 3, Section 22: “A person has the right to keep and bear arms for the defense of self, family, home and state, and for lawful hunting and recreational use.” West Virginia’s intention is to uphold the people’s rights that are in the “Second Amendment” of the Constitution of the United States of America.


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