Significant changes were made to WV gun laws for businesses in the 2018 legislative session. House Bill 4187, an amendment to West Virginia Code §61-7-14, created the Business Liability Protection Act. The Act effectively bans businesses from restricting the rights of individuals to stow a firearm in a personal vehicle on employer property under certain circumstances.
Changes to WV Gun Laws for Businesses
West Virginia House Bill 4187 has assumed many names: the Business Liability Protection Act; the WV parking lot storage law; or the WV parking lot protection bill, among others. Regardless of what you call it, the amendment has notable implications for WV businesses.
It is important for employers and property owners to understand the details of WV gun laws for businesses and the effects of those laws on liability and insurance matters, as well as policies related to personnel, safety, and company premises.
WV Gun Laws for Businesses: Conditions of the Right to Possess a Firearm
West Virginia Code §61-7-14, as amended by HB 4187, allows employees and other visitors to a place of business to possess a firearm when all of the following apply:
1. The ownership and possession of the weapon complies with all applicable state and federal laws.
2. The firearm is concealed.
3. The firearm is "locked inside or locked to" a vehicle in the business's parking lot.
4. The person in possession of the weapon is legally entitled to be present on the premises in question.
It is notable that the protections under HB 4187 are extended to employees and others who are legally permitted to be on the property. This includes volunteers, interns, contractors, and visitors. Employers do, however, retain the right to prohibit firearms in vehicles owned or leased by the employer.
Personal Privacy, Additional Protections, and WV Business Rights for Guns and Ammo
In addition to authorizing possession of a firearm under the circumstances outlined above, the Business Liability Protection Act also takes steps to ensure the privacy rights of gun owners. Business owners may not inquire, verbally or in writing, as to the presence of a firearm in a vehicle in the business's parking lot.
The law also prohibits a business owner from any action against an individual, including searching the individual's vehicle, for the purpose of determining if a firearm is present. This is so even if such a search were based on statements related to the presence of a firearm in a vehicle in the business's parking lot. This prohibition is limited, however, to cases in which the firearm is possessed for legal purposes and threats of unlawful acts have not been made. The law also exempts on-duty law enforcement personnel in the rightful performance of duties.
The Business Liability Protection Act also prohibits employers from placing conditions on employment related to an employee's status as a gun licensee. And employers may not enter into agreements with employees to prohibit the lawful possession of a firearm in a parking lot on employer property.
Additionally, business owners may not refuse admittance to their parking lots on the ground that a legal firearm is in a vehicle, provided the weapon is concealed and the operator of the vehicle has a legal right to be on the premises.
The Missing Exclusions of the WV Parking Lot Storage Law
One argument against HB 4187 was presented by Delegate John Shott of Mercer County, who expressed concerns that the bill would deter businesses with significant security concerns, such as manufacturers and chemical plants, from locating facilities in West Virginia.
Shott argued that other states with similar laws have incorporated exceptions for companies with a demonstrated need to maintain secure facilities, including oil and gas refineries; the Mountain State's legislature has not included such exceptions in the WV parking lot storage law.
Although the Act applies equally regardless of the nature of the property or business, there is an exception: the amended Act does not apply to primary and secondary schools in West Virginia. Firearms are not permitted on those premises, including parking lots, unless possessed by law enforcement or a person with express written permission from the county school superintendent.
WV Gun Laws for Businesses: Liability under the Amended Business Liability Protection Act
The Business Liability Protection Act is thus named because it includes limitations on the legal duties and civil liabilities of businesses. The Act does not expand on existing duties or create additional responsibilities for employers and property owners. In fact, the Act relieves employers and property owners of the duty of care and liability for damages related to actions they do or do not take pursuant to the Act.
Employers, business owners, and property owners should review insurance policies and personnel handbooks and make every effort to ensure that they update coverage and company policies in response to the 2018 amendments to West Virginia Code § 61-7-14.
If you need help determining the implications of WV gun laws for businesses and how they apply to your company, contact me, Stephen J. Golder, today by calling (304) 521-4571 (or (866) 617-4736 toll-free) or completing his online contact form. I have decades of experience as a business attorney serving companies in West Virginia (WV), Ohio (OH), and Kentucky (KY).