Am I Allowed to Carry a Handgun in Virginia?
We often get this question from residents of Virginia because the laws vary state-to-state. Be sure to check before you make any decision about carrying a handgun in Virginia or elsewhere, as the laws change frequently. The short answer is yes, you can carry a gun in Virginia, even without a permit. Virginia does not require a permit for what’s known as “open carry,” which means the gun is in its holster and visible and is in the possession of someone at least 18 years of age. The same law applies to a gun carried in a vehicle as long as it is in plain view on the seat. There are exceptions that apply to the average citizen, not law enforcement, military, or a licensed security guard:
- A semi-automatic rifle or pistol that holds more than 20 rounds of ammunition cannot be carried in public.
- A silencer attached gun cannot be open carry.
- Shotguns equipped with more than seven additional rounds cannot be open carry.
- Some facilities and stores may discourage or ban open carry.
Not all municipalities agree with open carry. Some disallow the open carry of assault weapons that carry multiple rounds or are equipped with a silencer. Check the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Newport News, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Richmond, Virginia Beach, and the counties of Arlington, Henrico, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William. On the other hand, with no permit, a gun can be carried in a vehicle as long as it is in a container or compartment within the vehicle, such as a center console, glove box, or trunk. It can be loaded and available to the driver. There is an exception. A county may make it unlawful to carry a loaded rifle or gun on any public street as may a place of employment.
Concealed Carry For a concealed weapon, however, the law is completely different. According to the state Code of Virginia, 18.2-308, for a concealed weapon, the owner must have a license or permit, be at least 21 years old, pass certain training, and may not have any disqualifying criminal convictions. After paying a fee of $50 to the circuit court in their county of residence, the applicant must undergo a background check. The applicant is also required to take a class on gun safety and some areas will require fingerprints. The permit should last for five years and may be honored by other states, but check before you travel cross-state. A violation of the concealed weapon statute is a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia. A second violation is a Class 6 felony, while a third is a Class 5 felony.
Shall Issue While many assume gun laws have made carrying more difficult in Virginia, the opposite has happened. Until 1995, it was up to the discretion of the locality whether or not to issue a permit after the applicant made a request to carry. Virginia is a “shall issue” state, meaning that unless there is a compelling reason why a permit should not be issued, it will be. According to The Virginian-Pilot, the “shall issue” concept is catching on and now 36 states grant permits to carry a concealed weapon to almost everyone who asks.
Private Property and Guns Not everyone is in favor of guns on their premise, so private businesses and landowners can prohibit firearms on their property, whether a concealed weapon or open carry. Whether a bar, a hospital, a bank, church, a store, or restaurant, all have the discretion to ban guns or make them off limits. Assume a school, airport, military base, courthouse, or any other federal property will not welcome a weapon, whether open carry or concealed. Look for any prominently posted signs to let you know the rules.
Stand Your Ground Although it is controversial, Virginia is a “Stand Your Ground” state. That means as long as you are not involved in a conflict, if you feel threatened you can stand your ground and use your gun to defend yourself. There are varying scenarios and each side will have a different story to tell. Contact the Pack Law Group in our Bedford, Virginia offices at (540) 586-7225 if you have the need to discuss your questions with an experienced team of criminal defense attorneys.