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West Virginia Gun Control Laws

The issue of gun control and gun violence remains controversial in American politics today. State gun control laws vary greatly. Some states provide strict regulations to improve gun safety and reduce gun violence. Other states support limited gun laws and offer law-abiding gun owners as the solution to gun crime. The state of West Virginia strikes a balance in these debates in a way that favors gun rights.

An understanding of firearms law often begins with the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms. Many state constitutions do the same. Recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court take the view that citizens have an individual right to own guns for self-defense and other lawful purposes. The Court sees this right as extending from the home into the public sphere. 

However, the right is not absolute. As a result, the Court has articulated a historical test for reviewing whether a state or federal gun regulation overly burdens the right to bear arms.

Under federal law, Congress regulates the interstate commerce in firearms. It has created laws to control certain dangerous weapons like machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, and sawed-off rifles. It established federal licensing of gun dealers and set prohibitions for persons who cannot possess firearms. Through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) it helps keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them, such as convicted felons.

West Virginia Gun Laws

West Virginia license plates carry the state slogan "Wild, Wonderful." Given the emphasis on outdoor adventures, state law favors gun rights for hunting and recreational use along with self-defense. As a result, West Virginia firearm laws lack restrictions found in several other states. 

For example, you do not need a permit to purchase firearms and the state does not require you to register the firearms you own. There are no state bans on assault weapons, nor does the state impose a waiting period from the time of purchase to the time of delivery for firearms. 

State law does not provide for universal background checks. If you buy a gun from a federally licensed dealer, they will run a NICS check. If you buy a gun through a private sale, there is no requirement for a background check.

In 2016, West Virginia adopted a permitless carry law for those at least 21 years old. Also known as constitutional carry, these laws provide that a citizen who is not otherwise prohibited from holding a concealed handgun license (CHL) can carry a handgun without a permit. 

A CHL only covers the carrying of a pistol or revolver. Citizens can still apply for a concealed carry permit through their county sheriff's office. They often do so for reciprocity, the ability to carry concealed handguns in other states. 

At 18 years old, a person can apply for a provisional CHL. At 21 years old, a person can get a standard CHL. The application forms are prepared by the Superintendent of the West Virginia State Police. The crime of carrying a concealed handgun without a permit will not apply to those between 18 and 21 years old who meet any of the following exceptions:

  • Carrying the handgun on their premises
  • Carrying the handgun in transport after purchase to home, place of business, or to and from a place of repair
  • While hunting or travelling to or from hunting and their home or place of business
  • Members of organized target shooting clubs
  • Law enforcement officers or officials (including federal law enforcement)
  • Certain corrections officials
  • Members of the U.S. Armed Forces, reserve, or National Guard
  • Nonresidents with a valid concealed carry permit from a state recognized by West Virginia
  • Parole officers

State gun control laws can regulate who can own, possess, and use firearms. They can prohibit guns in certain locations. In West Virginia, gun owners need to be aware that they may not take a firearm into the following places:

  • Primary and secondary schools
  • The State Capitol Complex in Charleston
  • Private real property where the owner, lessee, or person in control prohibits firearms on the property
  • Premises of a court of law
  • Federal government buildings including secure areas of airports
  • Jails, detention facilities, and state correctional institutions
  • Certain buildings or areas limited by a municipality's local code

One place those in West Virginia may see more guns is college campuses. In July 2024, the state's new Campus Self-Defense Act will go into effect. This law permits those with a valid concealed carry license to bring handguns onto the state's public colleges and universities. The law was backed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and opposed by the presidents of the five major institutions where it will play out, including West Virginia University and Marshall University.

West Virginia Gun Laws Overview

The following table outlines the main gun laws in West Virginia.

Relevant Statutes (Laws)

West Virginia Code (W. Va. Code) Chapter 61, Article 7: Dangerous Weapons, Sections 61-7-1 through 61-7-17

Illegal Firearms

Machine guns, unless in full compliance with federal law.

Waiting Period

West Virginia does not require a waiting period between the purchase and delivery of a firearm.

Who May Not Own

It is illegal for the following people to possess a firearm in West Virginia:

  • People who have been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year (felony)
  • People who are habitually addicted to alcohol
  • People who are unlawful users of or habitually addicted to any controlled substance
  • People who have been adjudicated to be mentally incompetent or who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution
  • People who are noncitizens illegally or unlawfully in the United States
  • People who have been discharged from the armed forces under dishonorable conditions
  • People who are subject to certain domestic violence protective orders
  • People who have been convicted of a misdemeanor offense of domestic assault or battery

License Required?

No. West Virginia does not require a license to own a firearm.

Concealed Carry License Required?

It depends. Under the permitless carry law, a concealed handgun license (CHL) or concealed weapons license is not required for people 21 or older who are otherwise not prohibited from possessing a firearm. West Virginians older than 21 often obtain a CHL if they want to carry a concealed weapon in another state that has reciprocity with West Virginia. Persons between ages 18 and 21 must obtain a provisional CHL to carry a concealed deadly weapon.

Open Carried Allowed?

Yes. Open carry is legal in West Virginia for those who are 18 years old or emancipated due to marriage or otherwise.

Eligibility for a Concealed Carry License

To be eligible for a concealed handgun license (CHL), you must meet the following criteria:

  • You are 21 or older (18 to 21 for a provisional CHL)
  • You are a legal resident or citizen of West Virginia for a resident CHL or a legal resident or citizen of another state for an out-of-state CHL
  • You have a valid driver's license or other government-issued photo ID showing your residence
  • You are not addicted to alcohol, a controlled substance, or a drug and are not an unlawful user as evidenced by, in the previous three years, residential or court-ordered treatment for alcoholism or alcohol detoxification or drug treatment or two or more convictions for driving while under the influence or driving while impaired
  • You have not been convicted of a felony unless the conviction has been expunged, set aside, or your civil rights have been restored or there has been an unconditional pardon for the offense
  • You have not been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of violence in the previous five years
  • You have not been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence or a misdemeanor offense of assault or battery, in which the victim was a current or former spouse, current or former sexual or intimate partner, person with whom the defendant cohabits or has cohabited, a parent or guardian, the defendant's child or ward or a member of the defendant's household at the time of the offense
  • You are not under indictment for a felony offense or are not currently serving a sentence
  • You are not the subject of an emergency or temporary domestic violence protective order
  • You have not been adjudicated to be mentally incompetent or involuntarily committed to a mental institution.
  • You are not prohibited from receiving, possessing, or transporting a firearm under state or federal law
  • You have completed an approved training course for handling and firing the weapon
  • You have authorized the sheriff of the county, or his or her designee, to conduct an investigation relative to the information contained in the application

Machine Gun Laws

In West Virginia, it is illegal to carry, transport, or possess any machine gun, submachine gun, or any other fully automatic weapon unless a person has fully complied with all applicable federal statutes, rules, and regulations.

Penalties for Illegal Firearm Possession

Penalties for violating West Virginia's gun laws depend on the law violated and the offender's criminal record. The following provides possible penalties appearing in specific statutes:
  • Carrying a deadly weapon without license or authority while under age 21 is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail, a fine of $100-$1,000, or both. On a second offense, it's a felony, punishable by one to five years in prison, a fine of $1,000-$5,000, or both.
  • Unlawful possession of a firearm by a prohibited person is a misdemeanor, punishable by 90 days to one year in jail, a fine of $100-$1,000, or both. If the prohibited person is carrying the firearm concealed, it is a felony, punishable by up to three years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
  • Unlawful possession of a firearm by a prohibited person convicted of a felony crime of violence, a felony sexual offense, or certain felony controlled-substance offenses is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both. If the prohibited person is carrying the firearm concealed, it is a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
  • Unlawful possession of a machine gun is a misdemeanor, punishable by 90 days to one year in jail, a fine of $1,000 to $5,000, or both.

Penalties for Illegal Possession on or Near School Grounds

It is illegal to possess a firearm or other deadly weapon:


  • On a school bus
  • On the grounds of any primary or secondary educational facility
  • At school-sponsored functions


There are several exceptions. A violation of this law is a felony, punishable by two to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.

Red Flag Law?

No. West Virginia enacted a law in 2021 that provides that no court has the authority to issue an order depriving a citizen of the state of their right to possess firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition under any red flag law.

Universal Background Checks?

No. West Virginia does not require that private gun sales transactions include a criminal background check.

Stand Your Ground Law?

Yes. West Virginia law provides that a person who is not engaging in criminal activity and is in a place they have a legal right to be can use reasonable and proportionate force against an attacker. They may use deadly force without a duty to retreat if they reasonably believe that they or another person is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm from which they can only be saved by the use of deadly force. State law also adopts the Castle doctrine, requiring no retreat from the defense of your home from an intruder.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts that include federal decisions, ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the status of any state law(s) you are reviewing.

Research the Law

Related Resources

Have More Questions? Talk to a West Virginia Attorney

Navigating gun laws at the federal and state levels can be confusing. Neighboring states like West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania do not have identical gun laws, including concealed firearms. If you have questions, you should consider seeking legal advice. Whether you've been charged with violating the law or are hoping to get your gun rights restored, you can speak to an experienced local criminal defense lawyer.

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