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Legal Information: Virginia

Virginia State Gun Laws

Updated: 
December 4, 2020

What is the difference between federal and state gun laws? Why do I need to understand both?

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.

What 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.1 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.2

1 Va. Code § 18.2-8
2 18 USC § 3559

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

Under Virginia law, it is illegal for a person to have or buy a firearm if s/he:

  1. was acquitted of a crime by reason of insanity and committed to the custody of the Commissioner of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services;1
  2. was declared legally incompetent or mentally incapacitated by a court;2
  3. as an adult or as a minor who is age 14 or older, s/he was:
    • involuntarily admitted to a facility;
    • ordered to mandatory outpatient treatment;
    • the subject of a temporary detention order and subsequently agreed to voluntary admission; or
    • found incompetent to stand trial and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future;3
  4. 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;
  5. has a substantial risk order against him/her or a similar order issued by another state;4
  6. has been convicted of a felony;
  7. was adjudicated “delinquent” as a juvenile at age 14 or older for one of the following crimes:
    1. murder;
    2. kidnapping;
    3. robbery by the threat or presentation of firearms;
    4. rape; or
    5. any other felony but only if the person is currently under the age of 29;5
  8. is not a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident;6
  9. is under 18 unless certain exceptions are met; Note: The law specifically prohibits possessing a handgun and assault firearm, not all firearms;7 or
  10. was convicted of two misdemeanor drug offenses within a three-year period. Note: The law specifically prohibits possessing a handgun, not all firearms. And, if five years pass from the date of the second conviction without a new conviction for another drug offense, then this restriction no longer applies.8

In addition, even if the laws, explained above, do not prohibit a person from having a firearm, there are additional restrictions when it comes to carrying a concealed handgun. A person is not eligible for a permit to carry a concealed handgun if:

  • 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);9
  • is addicted to, or is an unlawful user or distributor of, marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids (i.e., K2, Spice, etc.), or any controlled substance;
  • 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;10
  • is a fugitive from justice;
  • was discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;11
  • 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
  • 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;13
  • was convicted of, or has a charge pending for, stalking;14
  • has received mental health treatment or substance abuse treatment in a residential setting within the past five years;15 or
  • 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).16

1 Va. Code § 18.2-308.1:1(A)
2 Va. Code § 18.2-308.1:2(A)
3 Va. Code § 18.2-308.1:3(A)
4 Va. Code § 18.2-308.1:4
5 Va. Code § 18.2-308.2(A)
6 Va. Code § 18.2-308.2:01(A)
7 Va. Code § 18.2-308.7
8 Va. Code § 18.2-308.1:5
9 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(7)
10 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(8), (9)
11 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(11), (12)
12 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(13)
13 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(14), (17)
14 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(15), (17)
15 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(18)
16 Va. Code § 18.2-308.09(19), (20)