WHAT IS A FIREARM IN VIRGINIA?
Virginia law defines a firearm as an instrument which was designed, made and intended to expel a projectile by means of an explosion. It does not need to be “operable,” “capable” of being fired, or had the “actual capacity to do serious harm.”
A deadly weapon is an instrument likely to produce death or great bodily harm from the way in which it was used – classic examples include a gun or a knife. A firearm is a deadly weapon without proof that it was operable or loaded. Anything can become a deadly weapon if it is employed in a particularly vicious and cruel way. Even a stationary object can be a deadly weapon if the victim is impelled into or against it.
Each shot fired or each discharge of a firearm creates a separate violation under Virginia law. Thus, firing two shots would be two counts of unlawful discharge. Additionally, shooting from a vehicle and shooting at a vehicle are each a separate offense as well – so firing two shots from one vehicle at another vehicle constitutes four statutory violations. Take a look at the code sections posted below for the many different ways you can violate Virginia law.
BRANDISHING A FIREARM IN VIRGINIA
§ 18.2-282. Pointing, holding, or brandishing firearm, air or gas operated weapon or object similar in appearance; penalty.
It shall be unlawful for any person to point, hold or brandish any firearm or any air or gas operated weapon or any object similar in appearance, whether capable of being fired or not, in such manner as to reasonably induce fear in the mind of another or hold a firearm or any air or gas operated weapon in a public place in such a manner as to reasonably induce fear in the mind of another of being shot or injured. However, this section shall not apply to any person engaged in excusable or justifiable self-defense. Persons violating the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor or, if the violation occurs upon any public, private or religious elementary, middle or high school, including buildings and grounds or upon public property within 1,000 feet of such school property, he shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony.
VIRGINIA RECKLESS HANDLING OF A FIREARM
Virginia law makes reckless handling of firearms a class 1 misdemeanor. The reckless handling must endanger person or property in order to qualify as a crime. This law is violated by any form of reckless handling which endangers someone or something. If the violation is committed while hunting or trapping, the civil penalty of license revocation may also be imposed. Recklessly allowing access to firearms to children is punished as a class 3 misdemeanor.
VIRGINIA CONCEALED WEAPON OFFENSES
Virginia law permits carrying of concealed weapons with a properly issued government permit. Without a permit, it’s a crime. The first such offense is a misdemeanor, while any subsequent offense is a felony. The weapons covered by the law are handguns, switchblade knives and some fixed blade knives, razors, slingshots, brass knuckles, spring sticks, throwing stars, ballistic knives, machetes, blackjacks, and nunchucks or fighting chains.
Prohibited Conduct and Where Unlawful to Carry
Any person permitted to carry a concealed handgun who is under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs while carrying such handgun in a public place is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. Conviction of any of the following offenses shall be prima facie evidence, subject to rebuttal, that the person is “under the influence” for purposes of this section: manslaughter in violation of Section 18.2-36.1, maiming in violation of Section 18.2-51.4, driving while intoxicated in violation of Section 18.2-266, public intoxication in violation of Section 18.2-388, or driving while intoxicated in violation of Section 46.2-341.24.
No person who carries a concealed handgun onto the premises of any restaurant or club as defined in Section 4.1-100 for which a license to sell and serve alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption has been granted by the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board under Title 4.1 of the Code of Virginia; 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. However, nothing in this subsection shall apply to a federal, state, or local law-enforcement officer.
Va Code 18.2-308.01: Private property when prohibited by the owner of the property, or where posted as prohibited.
Va Code 18.2-283: To a place of worship while a meeting for religious purposes is being held at such place, without good and sufficient reason.
Va Code 18.2-283.1: Courthouse.
Va Code 18.2-308.1: School property. Exemptions to this statute include a person who has a valid concealed handgun permit and possesses a concealed handgun while in a motor vehicle in a parking lot, traffic circle, or other means of vehicular ingress or egress to the school.
Va Code 18.2-287.01: Carrying weapon in air carrier airport terminal.
Firearm Defense Attorney
This article is written by criminal defense attorney Marina Medvin, a former National Rifle Association (NRA) law clerk and now Lifetime Member of the NRA, with law offices located in Alexandria and Fairfax, Virginia. She represents individuals charged with the crimes described in this article in Fairfax, Alexandria, Arlington, Vienna, and Falls Church. Please call for a consultation request.
Your Concealed Carry Insurance or Self Defense Insurance May Cover Our Attorney Fees
Virginia Firearms Offenses Penalty Table
|Description of Offense||Code Section||Criminal Classification||Maximum Imprisonment||Maximum Fine|
|Brandishing firearm||Va. Code 18.2-282||Class 1 Misdemeanor||12 Months||$2,500.00 Fine|
|Brandishing near School||Va. Code 18.2-282||Class 6 Felony||5 Years||$2,500.00 Fine|
|Reckless handling of firearm||Va. Code 18.2-56.1||Class 1 Misdemeanor||12 Months||$2,500.00 Fine|
|Reckless handling, permanent injury||Va. Code 18.2-56.1||Class 6 Felony||5 years||$2,500.00 Fine|
|Carrying Concealed handgun while intoxicated||Va. Code 18.2-308.012||Class 1 Misdemeanor||12 Months||$2,500.00 Fine|
|Hunting while intoxicated||Va. Code 18.2-285||Class 1 Misdemeanor||12 Months||$2,500.00 Fine|
|Carrying weapon in airport||Va. Code 18.2-287.01||Class 1 Misdemeanor||12 Months||$2,500.00 Fine|
|Discharging firearm in public||Va. Code 18.2-280||Class 1 Misdemeanor||12 Months||$2,500.00 Fine|
|Discharging firearm in public causing injury||Va. Code 18.2-280||Class 6 Felony||5 Years||$2,500.00 Fine|
|Discharging firearm near school||Va. Code 18.2-280||Class 4 Felony||10 Years||$100,000.00 Fine|
|Possessing firearm with Drugs Schedule I or II||Va. Code 18.2-308.4||Class 6 Felony||5 Years||$2,500.00 Fine|
|Possession of handgun underage||Va. Code 18.2-308.7||Class 1 Misdemeanor||12 Months||$2,500.00 Fine|
|Carrying weapon in courthouse||Va. Code 18.2-283.1||Class 1 Misdemeanor||12 Months||$2,500.00 Fine|
|Carrying concealed weapon, 1st Offense||Va. Code 18.2-308||Class 1 Misdemeanor||12 Months||$2,500.00 Fine|
|Carrying concealed weapon, 2nd Offense||Va. Code 18.2-308||Class 6 Felony||5 Years||$2,500.00 Fine|
|Carrying concealed weapon, 3rd Offense||Va. Code 18.2-308||Class 5 Felony||10 Years||$2,500.00 Fine|
|Setting spring gun||Va. Code 18.2-281||Class 6 Felony||5 Years||$2,500.00 Fine|
Local Alexandria, Fairfax & Arlington Firearm, Self-Defense and Defense of Property Laws
City of Alexandria: Sec. 13-2-3 – Discharge of firearms.
Any person who willfully discharges or causes to be discharged any firearm in the city shall be guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor; provided that this section shall not apply to any law enforcement officer in the performance of his official duties, or to any other person whose said willful act is otherwise justifiable or excusable at law in the protection of his life or property or is otherwise specifically authorized by law.
City of Fairfax: Sec. 54-172. – Discharge of firearms.
It shall be unlawful for any person to fire or discharge any gun, pistol, or other firearm within the city, except:
(1) By special permit issued by the city manager containing reasonable conditions or restrictions, upon written application showing good cause for the requested firing or discharge, and limited to guns, pistols, and other firearms loaded with a blank cartridge, or other ammunition, not resulting in the expulsion of a projectile;
(2) On a shooting gallery or range authorized by the city;
(3) By any law enforcement officer in discharging his duties; or
(4) For the lawful protection of person or property; or
(5) As otherwise permitted by applicable law.
Arlington County: § 17-5. Firearms, Missiles, Etc.
A. It shall be unlawful for any person to discharge or shoot off a firearm in the County.
B. It shall be unlawful for any person to discharge or shoot or throw any dangerous missiles by mechanical, explosive, air-or gas-propelled means, or similar method or device onto or across any public sidewalk, path, or roadway, at any public structure or building, or at or onto the property of another.
C. It shall be unlawful for any person to shoot a compound bow, crossbow, longbow, or recurve bow at or upon the property of another without permission. It shall be unlawful to discharge a projectile from any of the aforementioned bows within one hundred (100) yards of any public road, public building or structure, private residence or structure, or property of another. Any violation of subsection A, B, or C shall constitute a Class 2 misdemeanor.
D. Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the use of firearms or other instruments or missiles or compound bows, crossbows, longbows, or recurve bows in lawful self defense or in the lawful defense of property, or to prohibit the use of firearms or other missiles or compound bows, crossbows, longbows, or recurve bows in supervised sport, recreation, or training conducted on safety-inspected and approved ranges and courses, provided the same is not contrary to existing law.
Fairfax County: 6-1-2. Hunting or discharge of firearms in certain places prohibited; exceptions.
(a) It shall be unlawful for any person to shoot any firearm in any areas of the County that are so heavily populated as to make such conduct dangerous to the inhabitants thereof, which areas are designated in Appendix J to the Fairfax County Code. Firearms may lawfully be discharged in those areas that are exempted in Appendix J to the Fairfax County Code so long as the firearms are discharged on a Parcel of Land that is posted with signs giving reasonable notice that firearms are in use on that Parcel of Land and that no trespassing is allowed. Such signs shall be placed where they can reasonably be seen. However, if firearms are in use on only a portion of any Parcel of Land which meets the acreage and other requirements of the term “Parcel of Land,” as defined by Section 6-1-1, then only that portion of that Parcel of Land on which firearms are used shall be posted with signs.
(b) It shall be unlawful for any person to hunt with a firearm any bird or game animal on or within 100 yards from any primary or secondary highway. A violation of this Subsection shall be punishable as a Class 3 misdemeanor.
(c) It shall be unlawful for any person to shoot or hunt with a firearm on any public school ground or any public park or on any area within 100 yards of any public school ground or public park. It shall be unlawful for any person who is hunting with a loaded firearm to traverse any public school ground or public park or to be within 100 yards from any such school ground or park. A violation of this Subsection shall be punishable as a Class 4 misdemeanor. This Subsection shall not prohibit either (i) the lawful possession of a firearm when such firearm is carried for purposes of personal safety or (ii) the lawful possession of a firearm on a public highway within 100 yards of any public school ground or public park. Nothing in this Subsection shall apply to: (i) recreational shooting on gun ranges at any public school operated by or with the approval of that school; (ii) recreational shooting on gun ranges at any public park operated by or with the approval of the owner of the park; (iii) shooting of a starting pistol at an athletic event on any public school grounds or public park and which is conducted with the approval granted by the owner of that school or park property; or (iv) lands within a national or state park or forest, or wildlife management area.
(d) It shall be unlawful for any person to hunt with a shotgun loaded with slugs. A violation of this Subsection shall be punishable as a Class 3 misdemeanor.
(e) Except for those persons who are on a Parcel of Land that is exempted in Appendix J and who hunt with shotguns loaded with multiple ball shot, it shall be unlawful for any person to hunt with a firearm which has a barrel caliber larger than a nominal 0.224 inches or to hunt with a firearm and ammunition combination having a muzzle energy greater than a .22 caliber rimfire cartridge. A violation of this Subsection shall be punishable as a Class 3 misdemeanor.
(f) It shall be unlawful for any person to discharge any firearm from or across any highway, sidewalk or any public land except on a properly constructed target range.
(g) Notwithstanding the provisions of Subsections (a) through (f) of this Section, the following acts shall not be violations of this Section:
(4) Shooting or discharge of any firearm by any law enforcement officer acting in the performance of the duties of a law enforcement agency. For the purposes of this Section the term “law enforcement officer” includes any person defined as a law enforcement officer pursuant to Virginia Code § 9.1-101 and any animal control officer acting in the performance of his or her duty.
(5) Discharge of any firearm in an entirely indoor target range, provided that adequate provisions are made to retain within the structure all projectiles discharged.
(6) Discharge of any firearm for the purpose of protecting any person from death or great bodily harm.
(7) Discharge of any firearm or starting pistol loaded with a blank cartridge, or other ammunition, not resulting in the expulsion of a projectile or projectiles.
(8) Discharge of any firearm (i) pursuant to a permit issued in accordance with Virginia Code § 29.1-529, if the discharge is on land that contains at least five acres and is zoned for agricultural use; or (ii) pursuant to authorization issued in accordance with 4 VAC 15-40-240 by the Director of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
(9) Shooting or discharge of a firearm by any representative of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries in the performance of duty for scientific collection or wildlife management purposes.
Town of Vienna Firearm Laws
Vienna Sec. 10-43. – Firearms; discharge prohibited; exceptions.
It shall be unlawful for any person in the Town to willfully fire or discharge any gun, pistol or other firearms except in a shooting gallery constructed and operated in accordance with the design criteria and specifications of the National Rifle Association as set forth in the NRA Range Source Book, and further, except where such firing or discharging is done with the written permission of the Town Manager and under the supervision of properly authorized Town personnel. This section shall not apply to any law enforcement officer in the performance of his official duties nor to any other person whose act is otherwise justifiable or excusable at law in the protection of his life or property, or is otherwise specifically authorized by law. This prohibited discharge of firearms shall not apply to the killing of deer pursuant to Code of Virginia, § 29.1-529 on land of at least five acres that is zoned for agricultural use.
Vienna Sec. 10-45. – Weapons; carrying concealed prohibited.
(a) If any person carries about his person, hidden from common observation:
(i) Any dirk, bowie knife, switchblade knife, ballistic knife, machete, razor, slingshot, spring stick, metal knucks, or blackjack;
(ii) Any flailing instrument consisting of two or more rigid parts connected in such a manner as to allow them to swing freely, which may be known as a nun chahka, nun chuck, nunchaku, shuriken, or fighting chain;
(iii) Any disc, of whatever configuration, having at least two points or pointed blades which is designed to be thrown or propelled and which may be known as a throwing star or oriental dart; or
(iv) Any weapon of like kind as those enumerated in this subsection (a);
he shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. For the purpose of this section, a weapon shall be deemed to be hidden from common observation when it is observable but is of such deceptive appearance as to disguise the weapon’s true nature.
(b) This section shall not apply to persons who are exempt from Code of Virginia, § 18.2-308(A).
Vienna Sec. 10-45.1. – Pointing or brandishing firearm or object similar in appearance.
(a) It shall be unlawful for any person to point, or brandish any firearm, as hereinafter described, or any object similar in appearance to a firearm, whether capable of being fired or not, in such manner as to reasonably induce fear in the mind of another. Persons violating the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
(b) Any police officer in the performance of his duty in making an arrest under the provisions of this section shall not be civilly liable in damages for injuries or death resulting to the person being arrested if he had reason to believe that the person being arrested was pointing, or brandishing such firearm, or object which was similar in appearance to a firearm, with intent to induce fear in the mind of another.
(c) For purposes of this section, the term “firearm” means any weapon in which ammunition may be used or discharged, by explosion, or pneumatic pressure. The term “ammunition” means cartridge, pellet, ball, missile or projectile adapted for use in a firearm.
VIRGINIA GUN PURCHASING OFFENSES
Virginia law forbids any person who is not a licensed firearms dealer to purchase more than one handgun within any thirty-day period. A violation of this law is a class 1 misdemeanor offense. A “handgun” is defined as any pistol or revolver or other firearm originally designed, made and intended to fire single or multiple projectiles by means of an explosion of a combustible material from one or more barrels when held in one hand. An excuse to this law is replacing a lost or stolen handgun, or trading handguns with another person.
There are many other purchasing offenses listed below in the selected Virginia code sections.
VA Code § 18.2-308 prohibits the concealed carry of any dirk, bowie knife, switchblade knife, ballistic knife, machete, razor, slingshot, spring stick, metal knucks, or blackjack … or any “weapon of like kind.” The first violation of this law is a Class 1 misdemeanor. A second violation is a Class 6 felony. A third or subsequent violation is a Class 5 felony.
A Butterfly knife is not a weapon of like kind enumerated in the code. Thus, the courts were left to interpret whether a butterfly knife is a weapon that cannot be concealed under the code section as the ones described above. In 2009, the Supreme Court of Virginia decided in the case of Thompson v. Commonwealth that it is insufficient as a matter of law to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the butterfly knife at issue is “of like kind” to a dirk or any other weapon enumerated in Code § 18.2-308(A).
GAME / HUNTING OFFENSES
Virginia Law punishes various acts of hunting and poaching of game / wild animals. The laws are enumerated in Title 29.1 of the VA Code – “GAME, INLAND FISHERIES AND BOATING.” These crimes are generally punished as a misdemeanor offense, some carrying no jail time at all, while other offenses carrying up to a year in jail. Additionally, these violations may carry a loss or suspension of hunting license privileges altogether or for a period of a few years, and repayment to the government for replacement for an animal killed. These laws are enforced by game wardens of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
HUNTING WHILE INTOXICATED
Hunting while intoxicated is punished the same as driving while intoxicated. Va Code 18.2-285 criminalizes hunting with firearms while under influence of intoxicant or narcotic drug. Any person who hunts wildlife with a firearm, bow and arrow, or crossbow in the Commonwealth of Virginia – while he is under the influence of alcohol, any narcotic drug, or any intoxicant or drug of whatsoever nature – to a degree that impairs his ability to hunt safely can face up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine if found guilty of this class 1 misdemeanor charge.
THE SECOND AMENDMENT RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS & THE RIGHT TO SELF DEFENSE
The Second Amendment provides that: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This is part of our Constitution, our basic guiding principles.
After some confusion on what this right really meant these days, in 2008, the Supreme Court in the monumental case of District of Columbia v. Heller, concluded that the Second Amendment “guarantee[s] the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.” The Supreme Court made a strong reinforcement as to the right to “self-defense,” which it described as “the central component of the right itself.” The Court labeled this “core right” as the right of “law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.”
Nonetheless, the Supreme Court described this Second Amendment right in District of Columbia v. Heller as “not unlimited.” As such, the Supreme Court ruled that “longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill” are “presumptively lawful” examples of 2nd Amendment regulations.
Hunting is not a guaranteed right at this time. The Supreme Court labeled the “core right” of the Second Amendment in Heller as the right of “law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.” This is a clear self defense right, but is not directly related to hunting for food, materials, trade or recreation. Neither does the Second Amendment explain the nature or reason for the right to bear arms.
Loss of Firearm License After Conviction
§ 18.2-308.013. Suspension or revocation of permit.
A. Any person convicted of an offense that would disqualify that person from obtaining a permit under § 18.2-308.09 or who violates subsection C of § 18.2-308.02 shall forfeit his permit for a concealed handgun and surrender it to the court. Upon receipt by the Central Criminal Records Exchange of a record of the arrest, conviction, or occurrence of any other event that would disqualify a person from obtaining a concealed handgun permit under § 18.2-308.09, the Central Criminal Records Exchange shall notify the court having issued the permit of such disqualifying arrest, conviction, or other event. Upon receipt of such notice of a conviction, the court shall revoke the permit of a person disqualified pursuant to this subsection, and shall promptly notify the State Police and the person whose permit was revoked of the revocation.
B. An individual who has a felony charge pending or a charge pending for an offense listed in subdivision 14 or 15 of § 18.2-308.09, holding a permit for a concealed handgun, may have the permit suspended by the court before which such charge is pending or by the court that issued the permit.
C. The court shall revoke the permit of any individual for whom it would be unlawful to purchase, possess, or transport a firearm under § 18.2-308.1:2 or 18.2-308.1:3, and shall promptly notify the State Police and the person whose permit was revoked of the revocation.
§ 29.1-338. Revocation of license and privileges; penalties.
If any person is found guilty of violating (i) any of the provisions of the hunting, trapping, or inland fish laws, any provisions of §§ 15.2-915.2, 15.2-1209.1, 18.2-131 through 18.2-136 and §§ 18.2-285 through 18.2-286.1, or any regulations adopted by the Board pursuant thereto, a second time within three years of a previous conviction of violating any such law or regulation, or (ii) any provisions of law or ordinance governing the dumping of refuse, trash or other litter, while engaged in hunting, trapping or fishing, such license and privileges shall be revoked by the court trying the case and that person shall not apply for a new license or exercise such privileges until 12 months succeeding the date of conviction. The court may also prohibit the convicted person from hunting, fishing, or trapping in the Commonwealth for a period of one to five years. If found hunting, trapping or fishing during this prohibited period, the person shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor. Licenses revoked shall be sent to the Director.
Forfeiture of Firearms Upon Conviction
§ 19.2-386.28. Forfeiture of weapons that are concealed, possessed, transported or carried in violation of law.
Any firearm, stun weapon as defined by § 18.2-308.1, or any weapon concealed, possessed, transported or carried in violation of § 18.2-283.1, 18.2-287.01, 18.2-287.4, 18.2-308.1:2, 18.2-308.1:3, 18.2-308.1:4, 18.2-308.2, 18.2-308.2:01, 18.2-308.2:1, 18.2-308.4, 18.2-308.5, 18.2-308.7, or 18.2-308.8 shall be forfeited to the Commonwealth and disposed of as provided in § 19.2-386.29.
§ 19.2-386.29. Forfeiture of certain weapons used in commission of criminal offense.
All pistols, shotguns, rifles, dirks, bowie knives, switchblade knives, ballistic knives, razors, slingshots, brass or metal knucks, blackjacks, stun weapons, and other weapons used by any person in the commission of a criminal offense, shall, upon conviction of such person, be forfeited to the Commonwealth by order of the court trying the case. The court shall dispose of such weapons as it deems proper by entry of an order of record. Such disposition may include the destruction of the weapons or, subject to any registration requirements of federal law, sale of the firearms to a licensed dealer in such firearms in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 22.1 (§ 19.2-386.1 et seq.) regarding sale of property forfeited to the Commonwealth.
The court may authorize the seizing law-enforcement agency to use the weapon for a period of time as specified in the order. When the seizing agency ceases to so use the weapon, it shall be disposed of as otherwise provided in this section.
However, upon petition to the court and notice to the attorney for the Commonwealth, the court, upon good cause shown, shall return any such weapon to its lawful owner after conclusion of all relevant proceedings if such owner (i) did not know and had no reason to know of the conduct giving rise to the forfeiture and (ii) is not otherwise prohibited by law from possessing the weapon. The owner shall acknowledge in a sworn affidavit to be filed with the record in the case or cases that he has retaken possession of the weapon involved.