CHARLESTON - West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey led a five-state coalition in urging the U.S. Supreme Court to review a federal appeals court decision that unnecessarily burdens an individual’s constitutional right to bear arms lawfully.
The friend-of-the-court brief, which was filed July 24, pertains to a ruling by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers West Virginia.
Morrisey believes the court erred in deciding that the potential presence of a weapon automatically makes an individual dangerous.
“It is wrong to deem an individual dangerous solely because they are armed,” Morrisey said. “I respect the right of innocent gun owners to carry their weapon without the fear of being unreasonably searched.”
The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in determining what constitutes a valid frisk, held that a pat down is permitted based solely upon a reasonable suspicion that an individual is armed.
The brief argues that such a ruling effectively forces an individual to choose between their right to bear arms and their right to be free from unreasonable searches.
No matter how cooperative the individual is, and no matter whether the individual is lawfully permitted to carry the weapon, the ruling allows a pat down so long as there is suspicion that a weapon is present.
The appeals court decision is particularly troubling in states like West Virginia, which have high rates of lawful gun ownership and state laws that promote the lawful carry of firearms, such as the constitutional carry law passed by the Legislature in 2016.
“The WVCDL fought tooth and nail to get Constitutional Carry passed in the Legislature,” said Keith Morgan, president of the West Virginia Citizen’s Defense League. “To learn that the 4th Circuit has ruled that in order to exercise that right, we must give up the right to be secure in our persons, papers, and effects, is a travesty. Patrick Morrisey is right to push this train wreck of a decision to the Supreme Court. We should not have to sacrifice one liberty to exercise another.”
The brief argues that the appeals court misinterpreted existing U.S. Supreme Court case law by collapsing a two-part inquiry into whether someone is both armed and dangerous to a single requirement based solely upon whether a person is armed.
West Virginia filed the brief with attorneys general from Indiana, Michigan, Texas and Utah.