CHARLESTON (AP) — A new law that streamlines the process for West Virginian residents to buy a handgun also makes it easier for some people who have recently committed a crime to buy a gun.
The law, passed unanimously and with little debate by the General Assembly, took effect June 4. It allows anyone who obtains a concealed weapons permit after that date to buy a gun without undergoing a federal background check. A background check is required to get the permit, so supporters of the change say a second review is redundant.
But The Charleston Gazette reports that permits are good for five years, which means anyone later convicted of a crime that should bar a gun purchase can still buy one by showing the permit to the dealer.
“Anytime during those five years they’d be able to go purchase a weapon,” said Laura Cutilletta, a senior staff attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “Five years. That’s a long time for something to happen.”
The permit is supposed to be revoked if someone becomes ineligible to guy a gun, but that’s largely a matter of self-enforcement. Beth Ryan, spokeswoman for Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, said a person who becomes ineligible is required by law to return the permit to the sheriff’s department.
“Local sheriffs also have some responsibility in terms of keeping track of when a person’s license has been revoked,” she said in an email.
Putnam County Sheriff Steve Deweese said he doesn’t have time to check the permit status of everyone who gets arrested.
“A lot of stuff could be overlooked through the system,” he said.
The new law was intended to clarify procedures for obtaining a concealed weapons permit. Morrisey recently announced that because of that change, the federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives gave the state a so-called “Brady exemption,” which lets permit holders buy a gun without a background check. West Virginia is the 23rd state to get a Brady exemption.
The legislation did not say anything about the change resulting in fewer background checks.
Del. Danny Wells, D-Kanawha, is one of very few legislators who consistently vote against loosening gun laws, but he voted with every other legislator on this one.
“I can’t imagine that I would vote for a bill that would reduce any type of background check,” Wells said.
Private sales, including those at gun shows and flea markets, continue to require no background check.