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Federal law establishes a baseline national standard regarding individuals’ eligibility to acquire and possess firearms. Under federal law, people are generally prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms if they have been convicted of a felony or some domestic violence misdemeanors, or if they are subject to certain court orders related to domestic violence or a serious mental condition. However, federal law merely provides a floor, and has notable gaps that allow individuals who have demonstrated significant risk factors for violence or self-harm to legally acquire and possess guns.

West Virginia provides that, subject to certain limited exceptions, no person shall possess a firearm if he or she:

  • Has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
  • Is habitually addicted to alcohol;
  • Is an unlawful user of or habitually addicted to any controlled substance;
  • Has been adjudicated to be mentally incompetent;1
  • Has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution;2
  • Is an illegal alien or otherwise unlawfully in the United States;
  • Has been discharged from the armed forces under dishonorable conditions; or

Any person who knowingly sells, rents, gives, or lends or, where the person is other than a natural person, knowingly permits an employee thereof to knowingly sell, rent, give or lend any deadly weapon to a prohibited purchaser/possessor is criminally liable for a felony.4

West Virginia allows any of the people who are ineligible to purchase firearms under state law to petition the circuit court of the county in which he or she resides to regain their eligibility to possess a firearm.5 In 2008, West Virginia also enacted a law that specifically authorizes individuals prohibited from possessing a firearm due to mental health adjudications to regain their firearm eligibility.6 A law that West Virginia enacted in 2012 provides additional requirements for persons prohibited from firearm possession due to mental health history when petitioning for relief from disability.

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  1. A “mental defective,” as defined by state law, is someone who has been determined by a duly authorized court, tribunal, board or other entity to be mentally ill to the point where he or she had been found to be incompetent to stand trial due to mental illness or insanity, has been found not guilty in a criminal proceeding by reason of mental illness or insanity or has been determined to be unable to handle his or her own affairs due to mental illness or insanity. W. Va. Code § 61-7A-2(1).[]
  2. See W. Va. Code § 61-7A-2(2), (3).[]
  3. W. Va. Code § 61-7-7(a).[]
  4. W. Va. Code § 61-7-10(d), (e).[]
  5. W. Va. Code § 61-7-7(c).[]
  6. W. Va. Code § 61-7A-5.[]