Lawsuit Alleges Law Violates the Shelters’ Constitutional Rights, Including their First Amendment Right to Free Speech
CHARLESTON, W.V. – The West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a coalition of 14 licensed domestic violence programs that operate shelters throughout West Virginia, today filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia challenging a 2018 state law that forces businesses to allow invitees, customers and employees to bring firearms onto the businesses’ own parking lots. The law, W. Va. Code § 61-7-14(d), also forbids businesses from asking if someone has a concealed weapon in their vehicle, or from “taking any action against” such a person who has brought a firearm onto the business’ property. While the law requires such firearms to be kept out of view and be locked inside or to the car, businesses that take steps to keep guns off their property — or that even ask about guns in their parking lots — risk being sued by the state attorney general or any “aggrieved” person. These property owners could face financial penalties and be forced to pay for the “aggrieved” party’s attorney’s fees.
The lawsuit names Attorney General Patrick J. Morrisey as defendant and alleges that the law violates the First Amendment rights to free speech and free association of plaintiff’s member programs, as well as their due process rights. Plaintiff seeks a declaration that the law is unconstitutional and an injunction barring the Attorney General from enforcing it.
More than 20 states have similar laws in effect, though West Virginia’s is notable for its breadth, lack of exemptions, and for the severe burden it imposes on property owners’ rights. This is the first lawsuit challenging one of these laws in more than a decade. The West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence is being represented by attorneys from Everytown Law (the litigation arm of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund), Gupta Wessler PLLC, and Charleston-based Goodwin and Goodwin, LLP.
“The Coalition’s members and their staff know firsthand the link between gun violence and domestic violence,” said Joyce Yedlosky, Team Coordinator of the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “It is critical that they be able to make their own decisions about how best to keep their clients and staff safe. By threatening them with liability, this law deprives shelters of an important tool they use to keep survivors of domestic violence safe from firearm-related violence and intimidation.”
“This law is not only dangerous, it is unconstitutional,” said Eric Tirschwell, managing director for Everytown Law. “The lawsuit alleges that property owners — including West Virginia domestic violence shelters — cannot be deprived of their rights to ask questions and make decisions affecting the safety of themselves and those they invite onto their own private property, including whether to keep guns out of their parking lots.”