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Virginia Gun Control Laws

Guns and gun control remain controversial due to the number of high-profile mass shootings in the United States. Gun control laws originate from federal and state legislation. The federal government exercises limited control over the ownership and use of firearms. In state gun control laws, ownership restrictions vary widely from state to state.

Federal law restricting firearms stems from two significant enactments: the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) and the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA). The NFA created a tax and regulation scheme to control weapons used by gangs, such as machine guns and silencers. The GCA developed a broader system for banning possession of firearms by felons and others. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act expanded these prohibitions. It set up the National Instant Background Check System (NICS) to help states and federally licensed dealers prevent prohibited people from buying firearms.

Firearms laws also must consider the rights of gun owners, especially in light of recent decisions issued by the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2008, the Court overturned a Washington, D.C., ordinance that banned handguns and required certain storage rules for firearms kept at home. In 2022, the Court invalidated a New York law granting authorities discretion in awarding concealed carry permits. In each case, the Court found that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to own firearms for self-defense. State and local authorities must show that laws that burden the right to bear arms are consistent with traditional gun regulations from U.S. history.

Gun Control Laws In Virginia

The Commonwealth of Virginia has a long history with gun regulations. Its first General Assembly, in 1619, passed a gun control law making it a crime to provide arms to indigenous people. State regulation of firearms has changed over time. As in other states, Virginia gun control laws limit the ownership and carrying of certain weapons. Virginia laws also restrict who is permitted to own guns. For example, people convicted of a felony or who are subject to a protective order (restraining order) may not own or buy guns.

In recent years, the state enacted new measures aimed at preventing gun violence. This included a move toward universal background checks on firearm purchases and the passage of an extreme risk protective order law. Other laws sought to strengthen restrictions imposed on those convicted of domestic violence and encourage safe storage of firearms.

In Virginia, you must be 18 to buy a rifle or shotgun and 21 to buy a handgun. You need a valid identification, such as a driver's license. There is no rule to get a permit to buy a firearm. But, you must pass a background check to verify that you are not disqualified from having a firearm. Virginia does not have a broad ban on assault weapons. Yet, it does limit the ownership and use of certain guns.

Those seeking a concealed handgun permit in Virginia apply to their local circuit court. Residents and nonresidents can apply for a permit. The Virginia State Police website has online versions of the permit applications and other useful information on eligibility. The court requires proof that an applicant is competent to handle a handgun. Applicants can show this by providing evidence that they completed a hunter safety training course or a firearms training program sponsored by the National Rifle Association (NRA), the National Concealed Carry Association, or the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. Concealed carry permit holders from another state may qualify in Virginia. The state police provide information on what out-of-state permits Virginia will recognize.

Virginia law provides certain situations and locations where a person may carry a concealed handgun without a permit. These include:

  • A person's home or the curtilage of the home
  • Their place of business
  • People going to or from a shooting range, bona fide firearms exhibition, or firearms training course, as long as the weapons are unloaded and securely wrapped during transport
  • People carrying weapons between home and place of purchase or repair, as long as the guns are not loaded and are securely wrapped during transport
  • People who may have firearms and are traveling with a handgun in a private motor vehicle and have the handgun secured in a container or compartment of the vehicle
  • Those engaged in hunting

The law also permits certain people to carry firearms without a permit as well:

  • On-duty carriers of the U.S. mail, officers, guards and other authorized employees of a state correctional institution, and conservators of the peace
  • Active and retired law enforcement officers
  • Attorneys and judges for the Commonwealth

Virginia law allows open carry of firearms. Yet, this will only apply in some places in the state. Like other states, Virginia bans firearms (open or concealed) in certain locations. Under most circumstances, firearms are not allowed in:

  • Polling locations and buildings of the election board (during election functions)
  • Capitol building and grounds of Capitol Square in Richmond
  • Places of worship (except in cases of good and sufficient reason)
  • Courthouses
  • Air carriers of an airport terminal
  • Childcare centers and preschools
  • Public, private, or religious elementary, middle, and high schools
  • School transportation
  • Where prohibited on personal property by the owner

Localities in Virginia may also place location restrictions on firearms in places like local government buildings, local parks, and recreation centers.

The main provisions of Virginia's gun control laws are in the following table, with links to related articles.

Relevant statutes (laws)

Code of Virginia, Title 18.2, Chapter 7, Section 279 through 311.2

Illegal arms

The following items are illegal in Virginia:

  • Plastic firearms
  • Trigger activators (devices that allow a semi-automatic firearm to shoot more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger)
  • Striker 12 guns, commonly called "streetsweepers," or any similar semi-automatic folding stock shotgun with a spring tension drum magazine capable of holding 12 shotgun shells
  • Spring guns
  • Sawed-off shotguns and sawed-off rifles (in most circumstances)

Waiting period

There is no waiting period for purchasing a firearm.

Who may not own

The following people can't own a firearm in Virginia:

  • A person under 18 (under most circumstances)
  • A person convicted of a misdemeanor assault and battery offense against a family or household member in the last three years
  • A person acquitted of a crime by reason of insanity and committed to the custody of the Commissioner of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (unless rights have been restored)
  • A person who has been adjudicated legally incompetent or incapacitated (unless rights have been restored)
  • A person who was involuntarily admitted to a facility or ordered to mandatory outpatient treatment, was the subject of temporary detention and subsequently agreed to voluntary admission, or was found incompetent to stand trial and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future (unless rights have been restored)
  • A person who is subject to a restraining order or protective order that prohibits possession of firearms
  • A person who, within a 36-consecutive-month period, has been convicted of two misdemeanor offenses for possession of a controlled substance
  • A person subject to an emergency substantial risk order or a substantial risk order
  • A person who has been convicted of a felony
  • A person who was adjudicated delinquent as a juvenile 14 years of age or older for specific violent crimes
  • A person who is under 29 and who was adjudicated delinquent as a juvenile 14 or older for an offense that would be a felony if committed by an adult
  • A person who is not a citizen of the U.S. and not lawfully present in the U.S.
  • A person otherwise prohibited under federal law; see 18 U.S.C. Section 922(g)

License required?

No. Virginia does not require a person to have a license to buy or have a firearm. There are no requirements to register a firearm in Virginia except for machine guns.

Concealed carry license required?

Virginia requires a concealed handgun permit for anyone who wishes to carry a concealed firearm in the state. The rule does not apply to a person in their own home or their place of business and does not apply to certain professions, including police officers and armed forces members.

Open carry allowed?

Yes. But, there are location prohibitions and limits related to certain assault firearms as provided below:

  • Open carry is not allowed in places where firearms are prohibited by state or federal law
  • Carrying a loaded semi-automatic center-fire rifle or pistol equipped with a magazine that holds more than 20 rounds of ammunition, is designed to accommodate a silencer, or is equipped with a folding stock is prohibited in any public place in the cities of Alexandria, Chesapeake, Fairfax, Falls Church, Newport News, Norfolk, Richmond, or Virginia Beach, or the Counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Henrico, Loudoun, or Prince William
  • Carrying a shotgun with a magazine that will hold more than seven rounds of the longest ammunition for which it is chambered is prohibited in any public place in the cities of Alexandria, Chesapeake, Fairfax, Falls Church, Newport News, Norfolk, Richmond, or Virginia Beach, or the Counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Henrico, Loudoun, or Prince William

Eligibility for a concealed carry license

To get a concealed handgun permit, a person must:

  • Be 21 or older
  • Show competence with a handgun by completing an approved firearms course or alternative provided by law
  • Not be ineligible to have a firearm under state or federal law (for example, a person subject to a protective order)
  • Not have been convicted of two or more misdemeanors within the five years immediately preceding the application if one of the misdemeanors was a Class 1 misdemeanor
  • Not be addicted to, or an unlawful user or distributor of, marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids, or any controlled substance
  • Not have been convicted of driving while intoxicated or public drunkenness within the three years immediately preceding the application
  • Be a citizen or lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States
  • Not have been discharged from the armed forces of the United States under dishonorable conditions
  • Not be a fugitive from justice
  • Not be a person the court finds is likely to use a weapon unlawfully or negligently to endanger others
  • Not have been convicted of, or have a charge pending for, any assault, assault and battery, sexual battery, discharging of a firearm, or brandishing of a firearm within the three years immediately preceding the application
  • Not have been convicted of or have a charge pending for stalking
  • Not have previous juvenile convictions or adjudications of delinquency based on an offense that would have been a felony if committed by an adult (this does not apply to people who have completed a term of service of no less than two years in the Armed Forces of the United States and who received an honorable discharge)
  • Not have had mental health treatment or substance abuse treatment in a residential setting within five years
  • Not have a conviction for certain drug offenses within the three years immediately preceding the application

Machine gun laws

Every machine gun must be registered with the Department of State Police within 24 hours after its acquisition or, in the case of weapons that are modified to become machine guns, within 24 hours of the modification.

Penalties for illegal firearm possession

  • A violation of carrying loaded firearms in public areas is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail; a fine of up to $2,500; or both.
  • Illegal use of a machine gun is a Class 4 felony, punishable by two to 10 years in prison; a fine of up to $100,000; or both.
  • Failure to register a machine gun is a Class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500.
  • Illegal use of a sawed-off shotgun or rifle is a Class 2 felony if used during a felony offense. Illegal possession of a sawed-off shotgun or rifle is a Class 4 felony. Class 2 felonies are punishable by 20 years to life in prison; a fine of up to $100,000; or both. Class 4 felonies are punishable by 2-10 years in prison; a fine of up to $100,000; or both.
  • Carrying a concealed firearm without a valid concealed handgun permit is a Class 1 misdemeanor on a first offense. It enhances to a Class 6 felony on a second offense and to a Class 5 felony on a third offense. Class 1 misdemeanors are punishable by up to 12 months in jail; a fine of up to $2,500; or both. Class 6 felonies are punishable by one to five years in prison; a fine of up to $2,500; or both. Class 5 felonies are punishable by one to 10 years in prison; a fine of up to $2,500; or both.
  • Illegal possession of plastic firearms is a Class 5 felony, punishable by one to 10 years in prison; a fine of up to $2,500; or both.
  • Illegal possession of a trigger activator is a Class 6 felony, punishable by one to 5 years in prison; a fine of up to $2,500; or both.
  • Possession of certain firearms by a minor under 18 is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail; a fine of up to $2,500; or both.
Penalties for illegal possession on or near school grounds
  • It is a class 6 felony to knowingly possess any firearm on the property of any child daycare center or school, including buildings and grounds, any property open to the public and then only used for school-sponsored functions while such functions are taking place, or any school bus owned or operated by a school.
  • Possessing a gun on or near school grounds is punishable by one to five years in prison; a fine of up to $2,500; or both. If someone displays a gun in a threatening manner, the mandatory sentence is five years.
Red flag law? Yes. A Commonwealth's attorney or local law enforcement can file a petition for an emergency substantial risk order. A court may issue a final order if it finds by clear and convincing evidence that the subject of the order is at substantial risk of causing physical harm to self or others. An order can last 180 days. It can be renewed for 180 days when appropriate.
Universal background checks? Yes. Virginia now requires private firearms sales to go through a licensed dealer for a background check. There are exceptions.
Stand-your-ground law? No. But, under Virginia case law, a person without fault does not have a duty to retreat when attacked. They may stand their ground and repel the attack with appropriate force.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the status of the state law(s) you are reviewing.

Research the Law

For more information about Virginia's gun laws, review the links to related resources listed below.

Speak to an Attorney About Your Gun Rights

If you have more specific questions or face criminal charges in a gun-related incident, seek legal advice. A Virginia criminal defense attorney can help you.

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