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The West Virginia House of Delegates has passed a bill that would prevent state and local agencies and officials from assisting with the enforcement of federal gun laws unless those same laws are found in state code. Opponents of the measure have expressed concern that it would jeopardize federal funding that supports efforts between different levels of law enforcement across federal, state and local governments.
The measure would prevent state law enforcement agencies from working with federal agencies in “the investigation or enforcement of alleged violations of federal firearm laws which are not also violations of the laws of this state.”
Delegates adopted two amendments to the bill Friday ahead of House Bill 2694’s passage. Each amendment was adopted on a voice vote.
One change to the bill — offered by Del. Dean Jeffries, R-Kanawha — calls on the West Virginia Attorney General to publish guidance on “limiting assistance with federal law enforcement” beginning Jan. 1, 2022 and be updated as often as necessary. The bill had originally called for such guidance to be published beginning in June and would have been updated every two years.
Another amendment from House Judiciary Chair Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, clarified that state law enforcement could enforce state gun laws.
As the bill headed for a vote, Del. Lisa Zuckoff, D-Marshall, asked Capito if the bill would impact federal law enforcement grants that come to the state.
“We had testimony in committee and I didn’t hear that there was any impact on federal funds,” Capito said.
But Adam Crawford, vice president of the West Virginia Fraternal Order of Police, told the House Judiciary Committee earlier this week the bill could potentially affect funding for task forces and other cooperation between state and federal agencies.
And a coalition of associations representing various law enforcement agencies in the state — including the West Virginia Sheriff’s Association, the West Virginia Deputy Sheriff’s Association, the West Virginia Fraternal Order of Police, the West Virginia Chiefs of Police Association, the West Virginia Troopers Association and the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Association — have all expressed concern that grant funding that aids cooperation between federal and state agencies may be in jeopardy under the measure.
Former House member and executive director of the West Virginia Sheriff’s Association Rodney Miller told West Virginia Public Broadcasting that beyond funding, there are concerns over law enforcement officers properly upholding the oath they take.
“How do they necessarily pick and choose laws that they can or cannot enforce in certain situations? There’s just a lot of the concerns that revolve around that,” Miller said.
Miller also noted that various groups opposing the bill have passed resolutions supporting the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. However, he said their concerns over the bill have brought the coalition to oppose the measure.
“I understand the concern over gun rights. But also along the way with firearms laws, I understand that it also applies to explosives and also applies to firearms that may have been stolen with the serial numbers filed off — which is illegal under federal law, but it is not addressed under state law,” Miller said.
Although discussion on the House Bill 2694 was limited on the floor Friday, Del. Jim Barach, D-Kanawha, spoke in opposition to the measure.
“I noticed that just about all the law enforcement agencies have come out against this measure,” Barach said. “I support all law enforcement and I think that forcing our officers to disobey federal laws is just not what we should be doing.”
House Bill 2694 now heads to the Senate for consideration.