As you travel through Virginia enjoying the Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia Beach and other breathe-taking attractions, you will want to have your gun handy as always. Virginia welcomes her gun-wielding visitors with a show of Southern hospitality you are bound to enjoy – so long as you follow a few key laws.
If you have tried to get a handle on Virginia gun laws, I am sure you have found that official sources are incomplete and often contradict each other. The good news is Virginia laws are fairly straightforward and traveler-friendly once you get a grip of a few basic laws. So grab a glass of sweet tea and settle down for a mostly complete guide to handgun laws in Virginia!
Do I Need a Permit to Conceal Carry in Virginia?
There are are a number of instances you may conceal carry without a concealed handgun permit (CHP). If you are are a law enforcement officer, any person while in his own place of business and anybody who is at or going to or from an established shooting range (so long as the weapons are unloaded and securely wrapped while transported). There are a total of 11 exceptions of when you may conceal your weapon without a permit – see all the exceptions and exact wordage of the laws here, section C.
For all other situations where you want to conceal carry a handgun, you must have a permit from Virginia or one of the below states:
- Idaho (Enhanced License only)
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
If You Have a Recognized Concealed Handgun Permit (CHP)
Gun Free Zones (aka Criminal Havens):
- Federal facilities (buildings)
- Many federal agency lands (various federal regulations)
- Hog Island Wildlife Management area
- Buggs Island
- Courthouses (exception – courthouse treasurers may conceal carry a weapon during official duties, effective July 1st, 2012)
- Detention centers
- K-12 school grounds (exemptions: unloaded firearms in a closed container or unloaded rifles on a rack & CHP holders can conceal carry, while in a vehicle) Source: 18.2-308.1, section C, (vi) and (vii).
- K-12 school buses
- Property used exclusively for K-12 school-sponsored functions
- Airport terminal buildings (unless gun is secured in suitcase with intent to check bag)
- General Assembly Buildings (except for CHP holders)
- Private property when prohibited by owner
Colleges who Ban Guns:
- Community Colleges (8VAC95-10)
- College of William and Mary (8VAC115-20)
- George Mason University (8VAC35-60)
- James Madison University (8VAC45-10)
- Longwood University (8VAC50-20)
- Old Dominion University (8VAC65-10)
- Radford University (8VAC75-20)
- Richard Bland College (8VAC115-30)
- University of Mary Washington (8VAC55-10)
- University of Virginia (8VAC85-20)
- William and Mary (8VAC115-20)
- Virginia Commonwealth University (8VAC90-60)
- Virginia Military Institute (8VAC100-10)
- Virginia State University (8VAC110-10)
- Virginia Tech (8VAC105-20)
Open Carry – Prohibited Places:
- Certain guns, magazine capacities and more for certain localities – see more here
- National Forests – NO OPEN CARRY! (concealed carry only)
- Land owned or managed by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries – open carry prohibited except where hunting is allowed (4VAC15-40-60)
Effective July 1st, 2012 failure to have your CHP in your immediate possession can result in a $25 civil fee, as opposed to previously being a misdemeanor criminal charge.
If You Do Not Have a Permit
Transporting a gun through Virginia, even without a permit, is not difficult. If you do not have a permit, but want to travel with your gun within reach and loaded, you can so long as it is not concealed, according to a recent opinion by Virginia’s AG, Ken Cucinelli. If you wish to conceal the gun while traveling, even if you do not have a permit, you must simply secure it in a case. The case does not have to be locked, but the firearm should be unloaded.
Virginia is an open carry state, which means anyone who is legally permitted to own a firearm can open carry a handgun on or about their person. You do not have to have to be a resident of Virginia to open carry. Off limit places are (mostly) the same as if you had a concealed carry permit – see above list.
Self Defense Laws – Can I Stand My Ground?
While Virginia does not have a Stand your Ground or Castle Doctrine, Virginia does a have an excellent law dating back to our Mother Country, England. Virginia law does allow you to use deadly force if “you have a reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury to you or someone else”. It does not matter if the assailant is armed or not, but the fear should be reasonable. Virginia law does not require you to retreat, unless you have started an argument, fight or confrontation previously. If this happens, you must flee and give every indication that you are giving up the fight. Only if the person continues to attack or pursue can you then defend yourself.
For example, if you come home from work and find two men emptying your house into a moving van you cannot do a thing about it. There is no fear of great bodily harm or death to you or anyone else. However, if you are home when they come busting down your door and you believe they are going to hurt your or others, you are certainly within your right to use deadly force.
Virginia has no Castle Doctrine, so you cannot protect your property. If someone steals your car, you have got to stand by helplessly as they drive off. Now, if they are attacking you to get your vehicle or there is someone else in the car (who they are effectively attempting to kidnap), then you can use deadly force. But, you are not using deadly force to keep the vehicle from being stolen. Rather, you are using deadly force to protect yourself (against said attack) or you are protecting the other person in the car (against being kidnapped – aka great bodily injury).
State and National Parks – Can I Both Open and Conceal Carry?
Yes, you can both open and conceal carry in State parks and forests. You can conceal carry in National forests and parks; you may NOT open carry. You can also conceal or open carry in any city or county parks, day areas, rest areas or any other city, county or state property and buildings. Please note that open carrying in state parks is effective as of July 1st, 2012.
Are Large Magazines Banned in Virginia?
No, not exactly. But, some localities ban you from carrying guns (rifles or pistols) that have a magazine capacity of 20 or more rounds “on or about his person on any public street, road, alley, sidewalk, public right-of-way, or in any public park or any other place of whatever nature that is open to the public in the Cities of Alexandria, Chesapeake, Fairfax, Falls Church, Newport News, Norfolk, Richmond, or Virginia Beach or in the Counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Henrico, Loudoun, or Prince William.” You are also prevented from carrying a shotgun in the same localities that can hold “more than 7 rounds of the longest ammunition for which it is chambered”. Note that this does not apply to guns and magazines secured in your vehicle or home. Also, this does not apply to “any person having a valid concealed handgun permit or to any person actually engaged in lawful hunting or lawful recreational shooting activities at an established shooting range or shooting contest.”
Common Myths Regarding Virginia Gun Laws
1. It is against the law to have guns in church. False. Virginia law says, “It is unlawful for any person to carry a weapon into a place of worship during religious services, without a good and sufficient reason.” Virginia has historically considered self-defense/protection as “a good and sufficient reason”, thus allowing weapons in church, unless one has criminal intent. Attorney General Ken Cucinelli confirmed this in a recent opinion saying that guns can be carried in churches for self-defense, unless there is a sign prohibiting weapons (since churches are private property).
2. Guns are outlawed on all government property. False. While it is unlawful to carry a gun into a federal building (federal law), you can have a gun on federal property. This includes National Forests/Parks, post office parking lots, etc.; you just cannot take your weapon inside a federal building. Regarding state, county or city owned property and buildings, you absolutely can carry your weapon – either openly or concealed. In fact, Virginia law specifically bans localities (state, city/county) from banning guns on their property.
3. You have to be 21 to own or carry a handgun in Virginia. False. You may buy or own a handgun if you are 18+, but you must be 21 or older to purchase from a licensed dealer. Private gun transactions are permitted between Virginians, with no documentation or registration required. Additionally, federal law requires you to be 21 or older to buy handgun ammo. You can buy rifles and rifle ammo from licensed dealers if you are 18 or older. Anyone 18 or older may open carry a firearm on or about their person or transport a firearm in a vehicle.
4. Only law enforcement personnel may carry a gun into a police station. False. Virginia law does not specifically address this, so it falls under localities prohibited against banning guns on state, city or county property. However, note that some police stations, especially in small towns, are housed in federal buildings, county jailhouses, etc. therefore making it illegal to have guns in the police station. This is likely where this myth started.
5. It is illegal to drink alcoholic beverages and carry a weapon. True and False. Virginia law states that, “No person who carries a concealed handgun onto the premises of any restaurant, bar or club who is serving alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption may consume an alcoholic beverage while on the premises. A person who carries a concealed handgun onto the premises of such a restaurant or club and consumes alcoholic beverages is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.”
You can carry a concealed handgun into a club, bar or restaurant, so long as you do not consume alcoholic beverages while concealing. Note that the law does not prohibit concealing and drinking at your home, or other public or private place. Neither does the law specifically outlaw open carry and drinking. As the law does not directly prohibit any of these situations, it is probably safe to assume it is legal. However, contacting local law enforcement or a lawyer for clarification is a wise idea.
Virginia is very gun-friendly to her citizens and visitors – you will find a state aching to demonstrate Southern hospitality to you while showing off her many attractions across the state. From the Jamestown Settlement to the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, you will find attractions throughout history.
Note: Please realize gun laws change constantly. We are in no form liable or responsible for the information contained herein. While we strive to provide up-to-date, valid information, it is your responsibility alone to get in touch with the Virginia State Police to confirm laws and other regulations. Thank you!
Carrie Thompson, a gun-toting conservative, is a native Virginian who has an ever-growing interest in Virginia gun laws, due to a lack of resources and knowledge among official sources. Ever proud of her state, Carrie could boast of Virginia’s many attractions including home to the Confederacy’s Capital, Smith Mountain Lake and birthplace to many famous Americans including Sam Houston, Patrick Henry, General T.J.“Stonewall” Jackson, General J.E.B. Stuart, Henry Clay, Meriwether Lewis and George Washington.