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Challenging West Virginia’s “Guns in Parking Lots” Law to Protect Domestic Violence Shelters

The West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Inc. v. Morrisey


Everytown Law represents the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence in a constitutional challenge to West Virginia’s 2018 “guns in parking lots” law, W. Va. Code § 61-7-14(d), which forces businesses to allow guns in their parking areas and threatens them with lawsuits and civil penalties if they fail to comply. The law also forbids businesses from asking if an employee or visitor has a firearm in their vehicle, from requiring employees to keep their guns off company property, or from “taking any action against” someone who has brought a gun into the parking area. Over 20 states have laws that bar, to varying extent, private businesses from prohibiting gun possession in their parking lots, including Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.

The Coalition, suing on behalf of the 14 licensed domestic violence programs that make up its membership, contends that the law infringes numerous rights secured by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The law’s prohibition on firearms-related inquiry infringes the free speech rights of Coalition members who ask about the presence of weapons in order to better secure their shelters.

The law’s other restrictions undercut Coalition members’ efforts to run their programs as safe havens for survivors of domestic violence, violating their free association rights and their fundamental right to security on their own private property. Portions of the law are unconstitutionally vague as well.

Filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, the lawsuit names West Virginia Attorney General Patrick J. Morrissey as the sole defendant. The suit seeks an order declaring the law unconstitutional and an injunction barring the Attorney General from enforcing it. The Coalition is represented by attorneys from Everytown Law, Gupta Wessler PLLC, and Goodwin & Goodwin LLP.

Through its lawyers, the Coalition filed a brief in early September 2019 opposing the Attorney General’s motion to dismiss the Coalition’s challenge to a 2018 law forcing shelters (and other businesses) to allow guns in their parking lots.  On November 25, 2020, the District Court denied the Attorney General’s motion to dismiss, finding that the Coalition has standing and allowing its claims to proceed to a hearing on the merits.

In March 2021, the Coalition moved for summary judgment on all of its claims, marshaling evidence from domestic violence experts, shelter programs, and retired law enforcement about how the law strips domestic violence programs of their constitutional rights and puts their clients and staff in harm’s way. The Attorney General cross-moved for summary judgment, arguing that the statute does not infringe Coalition Members’ constitutional rights. 

On August 31, 2023, the District Court granted partial summary judgment to the Coalition, finding that the law’s prohibitions on asking about firearms or “tak[ing] any action against” someone upon learning of a firearm in their vehicle violate the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, and that the latter prohibition is also unconstitutionally vague. However, the Court declined to find that the overall law violates domestic violence programs’ First Amendment right to freely associate with their clients and staff, or that the law’s restrictions violate the substantive due process rights of private property owners under the Fourteenth Amendment. On these claims the Court granted partial summary judgment to the Attorney General.

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