CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill requiring pawnbrokers to provide certain information to law-enforcement agencies was on a passage vote in the House of Delegates today.
But the bill was sent back to committee after warnings about unintended consequences about stolen guns.
Lawmakers debated amendments to the bill on Monday and then received a message from Keith Morgan, president of the West Virginia Citizens Defense League.
Morgan wrote that the bill would, in effect, create a registry of both firearms and firearms owners.
“The passage of this bill will not reflect favorably upon the majority, while multiple strong, pro-gun, pro-liberty bills languish in committee, Morgan wrote.
When the House of Delegates floor session began today, Majority Leader Daryl Cowles arose, said there were some questions about the bill and asked that it be sent back to Judiciary Committee for further consideration.
“It’s a pawn shop bill that’s got some big questions,” said Cowles, R-Morgan, said after the floor session.
“We found some issues last night that were brought to our attention that it may do more than it was intended to do. And with those questions surfacing out there, what we decided to do — instead of laying it over — was send it back up to Judiciary.”
That committee might work on the bill and send it back to the floor, Cowles said. “Or it might be something they can’t fix in the short term,” he said. “So we sent it back up there to look at it and make our decision about whether we can rescue that bill.”
The bill was introduced Jan. 26 and sponsored by a variety of Republicans and Democrats. The lead sponsor is Roy Cooper, a Republican from Summers County.
It passed out of House Judiciary on Feb. 1 and was read the first time on the House floor the next day.
The bill says pawnbrokers should transmit pawn and purchase information electronically to a third-party database.
The database would record for each search the identity of the permitted user, the pawn or purchase transaction involved in the search and the identity of any customer accessed through the search.
Law-enforcement agencies could be charged for access to the database. The bill defines who may access the database.
The bill does not specifically mention guns, although firearms are a frequent item for sale and purchase at pawn shops.
Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, questioned the removal of the bill from its scheduled passage vote today.
“I think the bill is fine,” Pushkin said. “I think the bill is meant to protect people against theft — so people have an easier time getting their things back that are stolen from them.”
Pushkin said a concern about gun issues is a stretch.
“To me, it’s absolutely ridiculous that a group would come out and say it was creating some kind of gun registry. Well, it’s not. What it does is it would help people get items back that were stolen, including guns.
“For years, we were told that there were certain groups out there that were coming to take people’s guns. It never happened. But who does take people’s guns? Thieves — people that break into people’s houses at night and steal their guns. This bill would help them get them back.”
Delegate Rodney Miller, a Democrat, is a former Boone County sheriff. He said he still supports the bill.
“Apparently there’s a question now in regard to the guns that may be pawned. There’s a fear by some that this may be trying to create a gun registry,” Miller said.
“This is a tool for law enforcement to get stolen property back. I don’t know where that thought process developed. This is not any more information than a reputable pawnshop collects now, by code. The only variation is it’s online, rather than the law enforcement officer having to go from location to location to look for stolen property.”