The recent horrific massacre in Florida has provoked a new evaluation and conversation about gun violence, gun ownership, gun control, and responsibility for protecting our citizens. As these conversations continue, it is important that we all understand our Federal, State, and Local gun laws. To that end, the following is a summary of Virginia gun and ammunition laws.
Federal Gun and Ammunition Laws
Many Americans in all states believe that Federal gun and ammunition laws always preempt state and local gun and ammunition laws. This is a complex issue. The following explanation is from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
“Under the Supremacy Clause of Article VI of the US Constitution, a federal law is binding on all state and local governments so long as Congress duly enacted the law pursuant to one of its limited powers. Federal preemption of state law is uncommon in the area of firearms regulation, however.
“Congress may make its intention to preempt an area of state law clear by expressly stating its intent in the language of a statute. Absent such a statement, when considering a challenge to a state or local law based on the claim that regulation of the subject has been preempted by Congress, courts presume that the federal government does not intend to preempt state and local authority.13
“Congress has not expressly preempted the broad field of firearms or ammunition regulation. Furthermore, courts have held that congressional regulation of firearms does not create a scheme so pervasive that it leaves no room for state and local law.14 Thus, absent a specific, irreconcilable conflict between a challenged state or local firearms or ammunition law and a federal enactment, there is no federal preemption of that state or local law.”
What are Virginia’s Gun and Ammunition Laws?
Here is a quick summary of key Virginia gun laws.
- No permit is required to purchase a handgun or a long gun.
- No registration of firearms is required in Virginia, except that fully-automatic weapons (machine guns) must be registered with the State Police. (Virginia Code 18.2-295)
- No license is required to own a handgun or a long gun.
- Proof of age and citizenship is required in order to purchase an assault weapon.
- No permit is required to carry a long gun; Permits are issued to non-residents.
- A permit is required to carry a concealed handgun.
- Virginia law creates a “shall issue” option. This means that that a permit may be issued if specific conditions are met or if the applicant has a good reason to carry a concealed weapon. (Virginia Code 18.2-308)
- Open carry (carrying a weapon openly visible) is allowed for both long guns and handguns without a permit. This typically refers to people who are aged 18 and over. (Virginia Code 15.2-915.2; 18.2 – 287.4; 18.2-282)
- NOTE: Some counties and cities have laws that prohibit open carry of “assault weapons.”
- Some cities and counties prohibit carrying a loaded rifle or shotgun on the streets of the jurisdiction.
- Virginia has presumption statutes for most, but not all, local firearms laws regarding both long guns and handguns. (Virginia Code 15.2 – 915)
- Assault weapons (both long guns and handguns) are allowed in Virginia with proof of age (18 for long guns, 21 for handguns) and proof of citizenship or permanent residence). An “assault weapon” is defined as “a semi-automatic, centerfire, firearm equipped with a folding stock, or equipped at the time with a magazine capable of holding more than 20 rounds, or capable of accommodating a silencer or suppressor. (Virginia Code 18.2 – 308.2:2)
- No one under the age of 18 may possess or transport “a shotgun with a magazine that will hold more than severn rounds of the longest ammunition for which it is chambered.”
- Virginia places no restriction upon the size or capacity of an ammunition magazine. Yet a magazine holding 20 rounds or more makes a weapon an “assault weapon,” subject to laws regulating that category of weapon. (Virginia Code 18.2 – 287.4)
- Fully automatic firearms are not restricted by Virginia Law, except that they must be registered with the State Police; Plastic firearms and some “destructive devices” (such as a striker 12 shotgun) are permitted only for law enforcement. SBS, SBR, AWWs and suppressors are legal if there is NFA paperwork.
- Background checks are not required for private gun sales.
- Virginia law places no restrictions on ammunition or gun accessories.
- No registration is required if a long gun or handgun is lost or stolen.
In addition, Virginia has placed some restrictions upon the places where a gun can be carried. Places where a gun cannot be carried include places of worship (without good cause), courthouses, airports, schools, George Mason University and Virginia Commonwealth University, the Capitol and the General Assembly building (except for members of the General Assembly).
Finally, some categories of people are prohibited from using firearms, including people under age 18, illegal aliens, persons considered insane or under protective orders, felons, and some others convicted of committing certain other crimes.
A recent article published by U.S. News and World Report, ranked Virginia 29th among all U.S. States for gun violence. The data cited includes:
- Firearm deaths per 100,000 people: 12.0 per 100,000
- Total firearm deaths 2016: 1049 (suicides: 671, homicides: 353)
- Violent crime rate: 217.6 per 100,000 (4th lowest)
- Permit required to carry handgun: Yes
- Poverty rate: 11.0% (12th lowest)
Informed opinions and conversations are essential as these conversations continue and as our nation and our states consider new gun and ammunition laws. I hope this will help you to better understand current laws as you form your thoughts.