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Know the Laws: Virginia

UPDATED November 18, 2016

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Below is information about state gun laws in Virginia.  However, in addition to these state-specific laws, there are also federal gun laws that could apply.  To fully understand all of the legal protections available, it is important that you also read the Federal Gun Laws pages.

WomensLaw.org strongly recommends that you get in touch with a domestic violence advocate or lawyer in your community for more information on gun laws in your state. To find an agency, please go to the VA Where to Find Help page to find help.

Basic Info

back to topWhat is the difference between federal and state gun laws?

In these gun laws pages, we refer to both "federal gun laws" and "state gun laws."  The major difference between the two has to do with who makes the law, who prosecutes someone who violates the law, and what the penalty is for breaking the law.

One reason why it is important for you to know that there are these two sets of gun laws is so that you can understand all of the possible ways that the abuser might be breaking the law, and you can better protect yourself.  Throughout this section, we will be referring mostly to state laws.  Be sure to also read our Federal Gun Laws pages to see if any federal laws apply to your situation as well.  You will need to read both state and federal laws to see which ones, if any, the abuser might be violating.

If you are calling the police because you believe the abuser has violated a gun law, you do not necessarily need to be able to tell the police which law was violated (state versus federal) but local police cannot arrest someone for violating federal law, only for violating state/local laws.  Only federal law enforcement, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (“ATF”), can arrest someone for violating federal laws.  If the local police believe that a state law is being violated, they could arrest the abuser and hand the case over to the state prosecutor.  If the local police believe a federal law is being violated, hopefully, the police department will notify the ATF or perhaps the U.S. Attorney’s office in your state (which is the federal prosecutor).  For information on how you can contact ATF directly to report the violation of federal gun laws, go to Who do I notify if I think the abuser should not have a gun?  If the abuser is breaking both state and federal laws, s/he might be prosecuted in both state and federal court.

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back to topWhat is the definition of a felony?

Throughout these gun law pages, we will refer to gun laws that make it illegal for someone convicted of a felony to have a gun.  A felony is a more serious crime than a misdemeanor.  A felony under Virginia state law is an offense that is punishable by death or confinement in a state correctional facility.*  However, you cannot always tell if someone was convicted of a felony only by looking at the amount of time s/he actually served in prison since sentences are often reduced or pled down.  If you are unsure if the abuser was convicted of a felony, you might want to talk to the prosecutor who handled the criminal case against the abuser to find out or go to the local criminal courthouse and try to search the records.   

A felony under federal law is a crime that is punishable by a prison sentence of more than one year.**

* Va. Code § 18.2-8
** 18 USC § 3559

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back to topI am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?

Under Virginia law, a person is not eligible to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun if s/he:

  • was acquitted of a crime by reason of insanity and committed to the custody of the Commissioner of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, although s/he can apply for a permit five years after being released by the Commissioner;*
  • was declared legally incompetent or mentally incapacitated by a court, although s/he can apply for a permit five years after his/her capacity was "restored";*1
  • was involuntarily admitted to a facility or ordered to mandatory outpatient treatment, or who was the subject of a temporary detention order and subsequently agreed to voluntary admission; although s/he can apply for a permit five years after s/he was released from commitment;*2
  • has received mental health treatment or substance abuse treatment in a residential setting within the past five years;*3 
  • has an emergency, preliminary, or final protective order issued against him/her due to:
    • family abuse;
    • an act of violence, force or threat; 
    • a protective order issued as part of a divorce;
    • an order issued due to abuse/neglect of a child;
    • or a similar restraining order as any of the above that was issued by another state;*4 
  • has been convicted of, or has a charge pending for, a felony;*5 
  • was convicted of, or has a charge pending for, any assault, assault and battery, sexual battery, discharging of a firearm, or brandishing of a firearm within the past three years;*6 
  • was convicted of, or has a charge pending for, stalking;*7 
  • within the past three years, was found guilty of any criminal drug offense (listed in Article 1 of the law, beginning with section 18.2-247) or of a criminal offense of illegal possession or distribution of marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids, or any controlled substance in another state; (Note: This includes a first-time offender who was sentenced to probation and, upon fulfilling the terms of probation, had the conviction discharged and the proceedings dismissed);*8 
  • is a fugitive from justice;*9
  • as a minor, had a previous conviction/adjudication of delinquency (within the past 16 years of the date of the conviction or release from incarceration, whichever is later) for an offense that would have been a felony if committed by an adult; (Note: This doesn't apply if the person later completed at least two years in the Armed Forces and was honorably discharged);*10
  • is under age 29 and was adjudicated delinquent as a juvenile (14 or older) for an act that would be a felony if committed by an adult (or, regardless of one's current age, was adjudicated delinquent as a juvenile for murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, or rape);*11
  • was convicted of two or more misdemeanors within the past five years and one of the misdemeanors was a Class 1 misdemeanor (Note: Even if none of them were Class 1 misdemeanors, a judge can still decide to deny the permit);*12 
  • is addicted to, or is an unlawful user or distributor of, marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids (i.e., K2, Spice, etc.), or any controlled substance;*13
  • within the past three years, was convicted of driving while intoxicated, public drunkenness, or a substantially similar offense under the laws of any other state;*14 
  • was declared a "habitual drunkard" by the court and an order of interdiction prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages to him/her was entered by the court;*15  
  • is an immigrant who was not lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States (in other words, you have to be a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident to get a permit);*16 
  • was discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;*17 or
  • is someone who the judge determines is likely to use a weapon unlawfully or negligently to endanger others (based on specific acts s/he committed). Note: The sheriff, chief of police, or attorney for the Commonwealth would have to submit to the court a sworn, written statement indicating that, in his/her opinion and based upon personal knowledge of specific acts committed, the person is likely to use a weapon unlawfully or negligently to endanger others.*18 

* Va. Code §§ 18.2-308.1:1(A); 18.2-308.09(1),(2) 
*1 Va. Code §§ 18.2-308.1:2(A); 18.2-308.09(1),(3) 
*2 Va. Code §§ 18.2-308.1:3(A); 18.2-308.09(1),(4)  
*3 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(18)
*4 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(5) 
*5 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(6),(17) 
*6 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(14),(17)
*7 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(15),(17)
*8 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(19),(20)
*9 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(12)
*10 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(16)
*11 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(6) 
*12 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(7)
*13 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(8)
*14 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(9)
*15 Va. Code §§ 18.2-308.09(9); 4.1-333(A)
*16 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(10); see Va. Code § 18.2-308.2:01
*17 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(11)
*18 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(13)

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Guns and Protective Orders

back to topI have an emergency (ex parte) or preliminary order against the abuser. Can s/he have a gun?

Maybe.  Under Virginia law, it is illegal for someone to purchase or transport any firearm if there is an emergency or preliminary protective order issued against him/her due to family abuse or an act of violence, force or threat.  However, Virginia law does not prohibit an abuser who has an emergency or preliminary protective order issued against him/her due to family abuse or an act of violence, force or threat from possessing or continuing to own a firearm.*

In addition, someone with an emergency or preliminary protective order against him/her is not eligible to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun** and, if s/he already has a permit, it must be surrendered to the court that issued the order for the period that the order is in effect.*  However, s/he is allowed to have the firearm for 24 hours after being served with the order only for the purpose of selling or transferring the firearm.*** 

* Va. Code § 18.2-308.1:4(A)
** Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(5)
*** Va. Code § 18.2-308.1:4(B)

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back to topI have a protective order against the abuser. Can s/he keep a gun or buy a new gun?

Under Virginia law, it is illegal for someone to purchase or transport any firearm if there is an emergency, preliminary, or final protective order issued against him/her due to:

  • family abuse;
  • an act of violence, force or threat; 
  • a protective order issued as part of a divorce;
  • an order issued due to abuse/neglect of a child;
  • or a similar restraining order as any of the above that was issued by another state.* 

An abuser with a final protective order due to family abuse cannot possess or continue to own a firearm and must turn in any firearms in his/her possession within 24 hours of being served with the order.**

In addition, someone with any of the above-mentioned protective orders against him/her is not eligible to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun.  If s/he already has a permit, s/he must be surrender it to the court during the time that the order is in effect.*** 

Also, federal laws, which apply to all states, restrict an abuser's right to have a gun if you have a final protection order against him/her that meets certain requirements even if the judge does not specifically include on the order that s/he cannot have a gun.  Go to the Federal Gun Laws page to get more information.

* Va. Code § 18.2-308.1:4(A)
** Va. Code § 18.2-308.1:4(B)
*** Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(5)

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back to topIs there anything I can do to make it more likely that the abuser's gun is taken away when I get a protective order?

Virginia state law specifically says that a person who has a protective order against him/her cannot buy or transport a gun (and there will be a warning on your protective order form to the abuser that states this).  Virginia state law also says that if the abuser has a concealed handgun permit, s/he must surrender it while your protective order is in effect.*  However, you may also want to ask the judge to specifically write in the terms of the order that the abuser must give up his/her firearms.  It also may be helpful if the judge: 

  • requires the abuser to give his/her guns to the police, or requires the police to go to the abuser's house and get them;
  • makes it clear to both you and the abuser how long the guns will be kept away from the abuser; and
  • orders that the police notify you when the guns are returned to the abuser.

* Va. Code § 18.2-308.1:4

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back to topWhat is the penalty if the abuser has a gun while I have a protective order against him/her?

Under Virginia state law, it is illegal to purchase or transport a firearm while an emergency, preliminary, or final protective order based on family abuse or based on an act of violence, force or threat (or a similar order from another state) is in effect.  In addition, anyone with a concealed handgun permit is prohibited from carrying any concealed firearm and has to surrender his/her permit to the court while the protective order based on family abuse or based on an act of violence, force or threat (or a similar order from another state) is in effect.  Violation of either of these is a Class 1 misdemeanor and can be punished by jail time for up to one year, a fine of up to $2,500, or both.**

In addition, a new law that took effect on July 1, 2016, makes it a Class 6 felony if the abuser knowingly possesses any firearm while there is a final protective order based on family abuse in effect (or a similar order from another state) and s/he can be incarcerated for up to five years, a fine of up to $2,500, or both.  However, s/he is allowed to have the firearm for 24 hours after the order is served upon him/her only for the purpose of selling or transferring the firearm.*** 

Also, anyone who has or buys a gun in violation of the federal firearm law can be punished by a fine, jail time for up to 10 years, or both.***  For more information, see our Federal Gun Laws page.

* Va. Code §§ 18.2-308.1:4(A); 18.2-11(a)
** Va. Code §§ 18.2-308.1:4(B); 18.2-10(f)
*** 18 USC § 924(a)(2)

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Guns and Criminal Convictions

back to topIf the abuser has been convicted of a crime, can s/he keep or buy a gun?

Under Virginia law, people convicted of certain crimes cannot get a permit to carry a concealed handgun.  A person is disqualified from getting a permit if s/he:

  • has been convicted of, or has a charge pending for, a felony;* 
  • was convicted of, or has a charge pending for, any assault, assault and battery, sexual battery, discharging of a firearm, or brandishing of a firearm within the past three years;*1 
  • was convicted of, or has a charge pending for, stalking;*2 
  • within the past three years, was found guilty of any criminal drug offense (listed in Article 1 of the law, beginning with section 18.2-247) or of a criminal offense of illegal possession or distribution of marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids, or any controlled substance in another state; (Note: This includes a first-time offender who was sentenced to probation and, upon fulfilling the terms of probation, had the conviction discharged and the proceedings dismissed);*3 
  • is a fugitive from justice;*4
  • as a minor, had a previous conviction/adjudication of delinquency (within the past 16 years of the date of the conviction or release from incarceration, whichever is later) for an offense that would have been a felony if committed by an adult; (Note: This doesn't apply if the person later completed at least two years in the Armed Forces and was honorably discharged);*5
  • is under age 29 and was adjudicated delinquent as a juvenile (14 or older) for an act that would be a felony if committed by an adult (or, regardless of one's current age, was adjudicated delinquent as a juvenile for murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, or rape);*6
  • was convicted of two or more misdemeanors within the past five years and one of the misdemeanors was a Class 1 misdemeanor; (Note: Even if none of them were Class 1 misdemeanors, a judge can still decide to deny the permit);*7 
  • within the past three years, was convicted of driving while intoxicated, public drunkenness, or a substantially similar offense under the laws of any other state;*8 
  • was acquitted of a crime by reason of insanity and committed to the custody of the Commissioner of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, although s/he can apply for a permit five years after being released by the Commissioner;*9
  • was declared legally incompetent or mentally incapacitated by a court, although s/he can apply for a permit five years after his/her capacity was "restored";*10 or
  • was involuntarily admitted to a facility or ordered to mandatory outpatient treatment, or who was the subject of a temporary detention order and subsequently agreed to voluntary admission; although s/he can apply for a permit five years after s/he was released from commitment.*11

Federal laws, which apply to all states, also restrict a person's right to have a gun if s/he has been convicted of certain crimes.  Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.

* Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(6),(17) 
*1 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(14),(17)
*2 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(15),(17)
*3 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(19),(20)
*4 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(12)
*5 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(16)
*6 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(6) 
*7 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(7)
*8 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(9)
*9 Va. Code §§ 18.2-308.1:1(A); 18.2-308.09(1),(2) 
*10 Va. Code §§ 18.2-308.1:2(A); 18.2-308.09(1),(3) 
*11 Va. Code §§ 18.2-308.1:3(A); 18.2-308.09(1),(4)

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back to topHow can I find out if the abuser has been convicted of a crime?

Domestic violence misdemeanor and felony records are open to the public, but they are not always easy to access.  If you know the exact courthouse where the abuser may have been convicted, you can go to the courthouse and ask the clerk of court for access to those records.

Domestic violence misdemeanor and felony records are also kept in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). However, no one other than law enforcement officials and licensed firearm sellers are allowed to search the NICS.  Your local police department may be willing to search NICS for you if you ask, but they are not required to do so.

To read more about the NICS, please What will happen if the abuser tries to purchase a gun?

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The Abuser Isn’t Supposed to Have a Gun… Now What?

back to topIf the abuser's gun is taken away, what will happen to it?

If the abuser has been convicted of a crime that involved the use of a firearm, or if s/he has concealed, possessed, transported or carried a weapon in violation of the law, it will be forfeited to the State and destroyed or possibly sold to a licensed firearms dealer.*

If you receive a protective order against the abuser, s/he can sell or transfer the firearms to someone who is lawfully able to possess firearms** or there may be the option of storing the guns with a local law enforcement agency.

* Va. Code §§ 19.2-386.29; 19.2-386.28
** See Va. Code § 18.2-308.1:4(B)

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back to topWho do I notify if I think the abuser should not have a gun?

If you think the abuser is violating state firearm laws, you can call your local police or sheriff department or the state police.  If you think the abuser is violating federal firearm laws, you can call the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). 

You can find contact information for sheriff departments in your area on our VA Sheriff Departments page.

You can find ATF field offices in Virginia on the ATF website.  For reporting illegal firearm activity, a person can also call 1-800-ATF-GUNS (1-800-283-4867).  Many ATF offices have victim advocates on staff (called “victim/witness coordinators”) and so perhaps you may ask to speak one of these advocates if you are having a hard time connecting with (or receiving a call back from) an ATF officer. 

A local domestic violence organization in your area may also be able to answer your questions and assist you in talking to the necessary law enforcement officials.  You will find contact information for organizations in your area on our VA State and Local Programs page. 

Note: Generally, the abuser does not have to have knowledge of the law in order to be arrested for breaking the law.  If the abuser has or buys a gun in violation of the law, the abuser can be arrested, whether or not s/he knows that s/he was in violation of the law.* 

United States v. Lippman, 369 F. 3d 1039 (8th Cir. 2004); United States v. Henson, 55 F. Supp. 2d 528 (S.D. W.V. 1999)

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back to topWhat will happen if the abuser tries to purchase a gun?

Before purchasing a gun from a licensed firearm dealer, all buyers must undergo a criminal background check that is processed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).  If the abuser has a qualifying protection order against him/her, or has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor in any state, those records should be in the NICS, which should prevent the abuser from buying a gun.  Not all states have automated record keeping systems, making it more difficult to process the criminal background check, and some criminals and abusers do slip through the system.  Also, it is important to know that background checks are not required for private and online gun sales.  

If the abuser is able to purchase a gun and you believe that s/he should not be able to have one under the law, you can alert the police, and ask that his/her gun be taken away and perhaps the police will investigate.  Generally, it is not a good idea to assume that because the abuser was able to buy a gun, it is legal for him/her to have one.

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More Information and Where to Get Help

back to topI do not have a protective order against the abuser and s/he has not been convicted of a crime. Can s/he own a gun?

Even if you do not have a protective order the abuser and s/he has not been convicted of a crime, there are other reasons that s/he may not be able to legally possess a firearm under Virginia law.  A person is disqualified from getting a concealed handgun permit if s/he:

  • was acquitted of a crime by reason of insanity and committed to the custody of the Commissioner of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, although s/he can apply for a permit five years after being released by the Commissioner;*
  • was declared legally incompetent or mentally incapacitated by a court, although s/he can apply for a permit five years after his/her capacity was "restored";*1
  • was involuntarily admitted to a facility or ordered to mandatory outpatient treatment, or who was the subject of a temporary detention order and subsequently agreed to voluntary admission; although s/he can apply for a permit five years after s/he was released from commitment;*2
  • has received mental health treatment or substance abuse treatment in a residential setting within the past five years;*3 
  • has a charge pending for:
    • a felony;
    • any assault, assault and battery, sexual battery, discharging of a firearm, or brandishing of a firearm; or
    • stalking;*4
  • is a fugitive from justice;*5
  • as a minor, had a previous conviction/adjudication of delinquency (within the past 16 years of the date of the conviction or release from incarceration, whichever is later) for an offense that would have been a felony if committed by an adult; (Note: This doesn't apply if the person later completed at least two years in the Armed Forces and was honorably discharged);*6
  • is under age 29 and was adjudicated delinquent as a juvenile (14 or older) for an act that would be a felony if committed by an adult (or, regardless of one's current age, was adjudicated delinquent as a juvenile for murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, or rape);*7
  • is addicted to, or is an unlawful user or distributor of, marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids (i.e., K2, Spice, etc.), or any controlled substance;*8
  • was declared a "habitual drunkard" by the court and an order of interdiction prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages to him/her was entered by the court;*9 
  • is an immigrant who was not lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States (in other words, you have to be a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident to get a permit);*10 
  • was discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;*11 or
  • is someone who the judge determines is likely to use a weapon unlawfully or negligently to endanger others (based on specific acts s/he committed). Note: The sheriff, chief of police, or attorney for the Commonwealth would have to submit to the court a sworn, written statement indicating that, in his/her opinion and based upon personal knowledge of specific acts committed, the person is likely to use a weapon unlawfully or negligently to endanger others.*12

If none of these situations apply, you can still make a plan for your safety.  See our Staying Safe page for more information.  You can also contact your local domestic violence organization for additional help.  You may want to talk to them about whether leaving the area - either long term or for a little while - might help improve your safety.  See our VA State and Local Programs page to find a local domestic violence organization near you. 

For additional information on gun laws in Virginia, you can go to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence website.

* Va. Code §§ 18.2-308.1:1(A); 18.2-308.09(1),(2) 
*1 Va. Code §§ 18.2-308.1:2(A); 18.2-308.09(1),(3) 
*2 Va. Code §§ 18.2-308.1:3(A); 18.2-308.09(1),(4)  
*3 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(18)
*4 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(17) 
*5 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(12)
*6 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(16)
*7 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(6) 
*8 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(8)
*9 Va. Code §§ 18.2-308.09(9); 4.1-333(A)
*10 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(10); see Va. Code § 18.2-308.2:01
*11 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(11)
*12 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(13)

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back to topThe abuser uses a gun for his/her job. Does the law still apply?

Maybe.  According to Virginia state law, someone who was convicted of a felony (or was adjudicated delinquent for certain serious offenses) can use a firearm while performing work duties if s/he is a member of the Armed Forces or National Guard, or a law enforcement officer.* 

There are similar exceptions under federal law.**  See The abuser uses a gun for his/her job. Does the law still apply? in our Federal Gun Laws section for more information. 

If you are confused or not sure whether the abuser can still use his/her gun for work purposes, you can call the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit to find out more information: 1-800-903-0111, ext. 2.  

* Va. Code § 18.2-308.2(B)
** See 18 USC § 925(a)(1)

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back to topI've read through all of this information, and I am still confused. What can I do?

Trying to understand both federal and state law can be confusing, but there are people out there who can help you better understand the law and your rights under the law.

  • You can contact the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit to get more information about how firearm laws apply to you: 1-800-903-0111, ext. 2.
  • You can contact a local domestic violence organization in your area.  See our VA State and Local Programs page.
  • You can write to our Email Hotline.

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