What is the difference between walking into a CVS in Virginia with a pistol on your belt and walking into a CVS with a pistol under your shirt? Under Virginia law, one is legal, but the other could cost you twelve months in jail. To understand the differences between these seemingly indiscernible situations, it is important to understand the difference between Virginia’s open carry and concealed weapons laws.
Recent shootings across the country have sent states scrambling to enact new gun legislation that restrict or prohibit individuals from purchasing and carrying guns. In Virginia, however, gun laws remain virtually unchanged. Virginia allows individuals to openly carry firearms, with some exceptions, and carry concealed handguns with a concealed handgun permit.
Can You Openly Carry A Loaded Gun in Virginia?
The answer to this question depends on the type of firearm and the location in which you carry it. Section 18.2-287.4 of the Virginia Code outlines the general prohibitions regarding openly carrying a firearm. The section prevents individuals from openly carrying three types of loaded weapons. The first two weapons are semi-automatic center-fire rifles, which include assault rifles, and semi-automatic pistols that are equipped with a magazine that will hold more than 20 rounds, can accommodate a silencer, or are equipped with a folding stock. Thus, Virginians are able to openly carry semi-automatic pistols and rifles as long as they do not meet one of the three above-mentioned restrictions. Section 18.2-287.4 also prohibits openly carrying shotguns with a magazine that can hold more than seven rounds. Therefore, Virginians can openly carry shotguns with this one exception.
It is important to remember that the weapon must be openly carried. Concealing an otherwise permissible weapon is illegal without a concealed handgun permit. In the CVS hypothetical above, it was the concealment of the pistol under the shirt that made the act illegal. Likewise, it is illegal to brandish a weapon, regardless of whether it is capable of firing, if doing so would cause a reasonable person to fear being shot or injured. Essentially, this provision of the Virginia Code prohibits threatening someone or acting irresponsibly with an otherwise legally carried firearm.
Finally, the prohibitions on openly carrying firearms in Section 18.2-287.4 of the Virginia Code do not apply to several classes of people. The law exempts law enforcement personnel, licensed security guards, anyone lawfully engaged in hunting or activities at a shooting range, and individuals with a concealed handgun permit
Can You Carry a Concealed Weapon in Virginia?
Virginia has relatively strict laws prohibiting concealed weapons. Not only is carrying a concealed firearm illegal, it is illegal to conceal a wide variety of other weapons including bowie knives and switchblades. A first time violation of the law is a Class 1 Misdemeanor and subsequent violations are classified as felonies. There are several exceptions to the laws against concealed weapons, such as individuals in their place of business and those traveling to shooting ranges, provided that the weapon is secured and unloaded. Likewise, Virginians with a concealed handgun permit are exempt from the law.
Finally, there are some locations in Virginia where a gun cannot be openly carried, regardless of whether it would be permitted under open carry laws or with a concealed handgun permit. It is illegal to bring a firearm to places of religious worship without good reason, courthouses, and airport terminals, unless you are doing so to comply with federal law, lawfully checking the firearm, or retrieving the firearm from the baggage claim area.
Illegally carrying or using a gun in the commission of a crime can drastically increase the seriousness of the charges and the punishment. As we recently discussed, merely possessing a firearm after a felony conviction carries a mandatory five-year jail sentence. If you have been charged with a crime involving a gun in Virginia, it is vital that you contact an attorneys. We have extensive experience with weapon charges, and will work with you to achieve a favorable resolution.
J.D. Garrett is the principal attorney and founder of Garrett Law Group, PLC in Virginia Beach, VA. He handles all major felony criminal cases for the law firm, as well as some personal injury cases. Over the years, he has experience in representing individuals charged with minor misdemeanor and traffic offenses, up to and including major felony charges such as bank robbery, rape, and homicide.