Weapons Charges in Virginia

Learn about Virginia’s restrictions on possessing, carrying, and using guns and other deadly weapons.

You need a license to carry a concealed gun or other dangerous weapon in Virginia. The state also has a number of laws that prohibit some people from having any firearms, restrict the places and circumstances where you can carry weapons, and outlaw dangerous uses of weapons. This article summarizes those laws and the criminal charges for violating them.

Carrying a Concealed Weapon Without a Permit

In Virginia, it’s illegal to carry concealed guns or certain other dangerous weapons (including switchblades and bowie knives) unless you have a valid concealed carry permit from the state, or you’re in your own home, property, or business. Other exceptions include law enforcement and certain other officers, as well as people on their way to a shooting range.

People who are ineligible to get a concealed carry permit include:

  • anyone under age 21
  • those who are legally barred from having guns (as discussed below)
  • convicted stalkers
  • people who’ve recently been convicted of certain other crimes, including assault and battery; and
  • defendants facing pending criminal charges for felonies or certain misdemeanors.

A first offense for carrying a concealed weapon without a permit will be punished as a Class 1 misdemeanor, a second offense as a Class 6 felony, and any subsequent offenses as Class 5 felonies.

In several Virginia counties and the state’s largest cities, it’s also a Class 1 misdemeanor to carry in public a loaded semiautomatic gun or a rifle with more than 20 rounds of ammunition, unless you have a concealed carry permit, are legally hunting or at a shooting range, or meet one of the other exceptions for law enforcement and similar personnel. (Va. Code §§ 18.2-287.4, 18.2-308, 18.2-308.02, 18.2-309.09 (2019).)

Circumstances and Places Where It’s Illegal to Carry Weapons

Even if you have a license, it’s illegal in Virginia to be under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs, or even to drink alcohol in a bar or restaurant, while you’re carrying a concealed handgun. It’s also a crime to carry any gun, concealed or openly, while you’re in possession of a controlled drug.

You can also face criminal charges for carrying guns, stun guns, or other dangerous weapons in certain places, including:

  • K-12 school grounds, school buses, or wherever school activities are taking place
  • places of religious worship, and
  • courthouses.

Penalties for violations range from a Class 4 misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony for carrying a gun at a school or while you have illegal drugs. (Va. Code §§ 18.2-283, 18.2, 283.1, 18.2-308.012, 18.2-308.1, 18-2.308.4 (2019).)

Illegal Gun Possession: Felons, Minors, and Others

Virginia law prohibits a range of people from possessing guns and other dangerous weapons, including felons and minors.

Felons

If you’ve previously been convicted of a felony (or a certain serious juvenile offense), you can be charged with a Class 6 felony for having a gun, stun gun, concealed weapon, ammunition, or explosives, unless you’ve had your gun rights restored. However, you may have a stun gun in your own home, and you can apply for a permit to carry a gun, ammunition, or stun gun. (Va. Code § 18.2-308.2 (2019).)

Minors

It’s a class 1 misdemeanor for minors (under 18) to have handguns or assault guns anywhere in Virginia, unless they are:

  • at their own homes or property
  • on the property of their parents, grandparents, or legal guardians
  • on someone else’s property, with prior permission from the property owner and the minors’ parents
  • hunting, or
  • on duty in the military or national guard.

Other than exchanging guns between family members or for the purpose of a sporting activity, it’s a Class 5 felony to give or sell a handgun to a minor. (Va. Code §§ 18.2-308.7, 309 (2019).)

Domestic Violence and Other Prohibitions

Some other people are subject to Virginia prohibitions on gun possession, including those who’ve been found to be mentally incapacitated or are subject to certain protective orders, including a domestic violence restraining order. Violations are either a Class 1 misdemeanor or a Class 6 felony. (Va. Code §§ 18.2-308.1:1, 18.2-308.1:2, 18.2-308.1:3, 18.2-308.1:4 (2019).)

Illegal Use of Weapons

Virginia also outlaws dangerous uses of weapons, including:

  • purposefully firing a gun on city streets or in public businesses, schools, or other public places
  • firing gun in or at a building or from a car in a way that endangers someone
  • firing a gun or bow and arrow in or across a street
  • pointing or brandishing a gun, air gun, or similar weapon in a way that would reasonably make someone afraid, except in self-defense
  • brandishing a bladed weapon with the intention of intimidating someone, except in self-defense
  • hunting while intoxicated, and
  • setting a spring trap with a gun or other deadly weapon.

Charges for violations range from a Class 1 misdemeanor to a Class 4 felony, depending on the circumstances and location. (Va. Code §§ 18.2-279, 18.2-280, 18.2-281, 18.2-282, 18.2-282.1, 18.2-285, 18.2-286, 18.2-286.1 (2019).)

Getting Legal Assistance

You should never face weapons-related charges without talking to a qualified Virginia criminal defense attorney who can protect your rights and help you prepare the best possible defense.

Changes in the Law

Because states can change their laws at any time, you may want to check the Code of Virginia to see the current versions of statutes mentioned in this article. However, court decisions may affect the interpretation and application of those laws—another good reason to speak to a lawyer if you're concerned about actual or potential weapons charges.

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