The Commonwealth of Virginia has a long history of permitting law-abiding citizens to own and carry firearms for hunting and personal protection.
Virginia is what some call an “open carry” state.
This means a qualifying individual can legally carry a loaded weapon in public, open to common observation, without getting a special license or getting into trouble with the law.
There are, however, important exceptions to carrying a loaded weapon openly. These restrictions apply to rifles, shotguns, magazine capacity, and where a person may openly carry.
For example, only law enforcement are permitted to take a weapon in to a courthouse, school, or certain other government buildings.
Further, only law enforcement are allowed to take their weapon onto private property where it has been prohibited by the owner, renter, or manager.
Unlike “open carry,” you are not allowed to hide or conceal a loaded weapon under your clothing without first getting a permit.
This is a fairly serious crime, with a maximum punishment of a $2,500 fine and a year of jail time.
However, there is an exception to this law: the rules are different if you have a Concealed Handgun Permit.
In this article, we’ll talk about what exactly that permit applies to. We’ll also go through the four steps for obtaining a concealed handgun permit in Virginia.
What is a Concealed Handgun Permit?
Some states issue what they call a “concealed weapons permit.”
However, in Virginia, there’s no such thing as a “general” concealed weapons permit.
Specifically, regardless of the circumstances, it’s illegal to conceal and carry shotguns, switchblade knives, or other similar weapons, as listed in Virginia Code § 18.2-308.
The only exception to this rule is to get a concealed handgun permit.
As long as you have your permit and a photo ID on your person, you may carry only a concealed handgun, as defined by Virginia Code § 18.2-307.1.
As mentioned above, a person with a valid concealed handgun permit is still not allowed to carry other weapons concealed.
Further, even if you possess a valid concealed handgun permit, carrying a concealed handgun without both your permit and ID on your person is a civil infraction with a penalty of $25.
However, the local court may decide to waive this penalty if you produce a valid ID and documentation.
It’s also important to note that alcohol and firearms don’t mix.
In Virginia, any person who carries a concealed weapon while under the influence of alcohol or drugs has committed a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
As of January 15, 2018, any person who carries a concealed weapon into a restaurant or bar and consumes even one alcoholic beverage has committed a Class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of $1,000.
Where can you carry a concealed handgun?
If you don’t have a permit, you may only carry a concealed firearm of any type under one or more of the following conditions:
- In your own home.
- In your place of business, provided that business has no explicit or implicit policy against carrying firearms.
- While you are lawfully hunting and conceal your firearms to prevent damage due to inclement weather.
- While you are transporting your firearms to a hunting area, shooting range, or another lawful place. However, you must unload and securely wrap the firearms.
For a more complete list of permissible concealed carry, see the Virginia State Police’s website or Virginia Code § 18.2-308.
If you do have a concealed handgun permit, you may conceal and carry your handgun anywhere except for the following places:
- You may not carry weapons into places of worship without “good and sufficient reason.”
- You may not carry weapons to or in a courthouse or airport terminal.
- Virginia law prohibits carrying a handgun on the property of a school unless you are in your vehicle in the parking lot, or traffic circle, or keep it stored securely in your vehicle. (School policy and local ordinances can still ban firearms on school property altogether.)
- You may not carry a firearm to, or on, the property of an individual who has banned firearms on that property.
- You may not conceal or carry a firearm while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or while drinking at a restaurant or bar.
Finally, Virginia law prohibits any and all brandishing of firearms.
This essentially means holding or aiming a firearm in such a way as to cause fear or panic in another person.
However, the law makes an exception for legitimate cases of self-defense.
Step 1: Concealed Handgun Permit Eligibility
When applying for a concealed handgun permit in Virginia, there are a few steps you should take. The first is to make sure you are actually eligible for the permit.
To be eligible for a concealed handgun permit in Virginia, you must fulfill all of the following requirements:
- You must be over the age of 21.
- You must be a lawful citizen or permanent resident of the United States.
- If you were a member of the Armed Forces, you must not have received a dishonorable discharge.
- If you received mental health or substance abuse treatment, you must wait until five years after the end of that treatment to apply for a concealed handgun permit.
- You must not be a fugitive from justice.
- You must not be subject to a restraining or protective order that prohibits you from carrying or possessing firearms.
- Any of the more specific disqualifying issues found in Virginia Code § 18.2-309.09.
Individuals charged or convicted of certain crimes must wait up to three years before applying for a concealed handgun permit.
These circumstances can include:
- A DUI or public intoxication conviction.
- A pending charge for assault and battery, sexual battery, or discharging or brandishing a firearm. Note that the 3 year waiting period begins from the date of conviction.
Further, the following criminal convictions will permanently disqualify you from possessing a concealed handgun permit:
- Any felony conviction.
- Any conviction as a minor which would be considered a felony were you an adult.
- Any stalking conviction.
- Any case that proves you are addicted to, unlawfully using, or unlawfully distributing any controlled substance.
For the felony convictions, under certain circumstances you may petition the Governor’s office to restore your rights and allow you to own and carry a firearm.
Finally, the court may deny a concealed handgun permit to any individual that is likely to use that firearm in an unlawful or dangerous manner.
The court will only do so based on a preponderance of evidence.
Step 2: Demonstrate Competence
According to Virginia Code § 18.2-308.016, you must demonstrate that you are capable of safely owning and handling a firearm in order for the state to grant you a concealed handgun permit.
Retired law-enforcement officers may instead obtain a concealed handgun permit through the recommendation of their law-enforcement agency.
Virginia accepts completion of any of the following courses or training regimens as proof of handgun competency:
- Any hunting safety course approved by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
- Law-enforcement or security firearms training courses, such as those offered to security guards.
- Firearms safety courses overseen by police, Department of Justice, or National Rifle Association-certified instructors.
Alternatively, an applicant may demonstrate training with firearms from another source. Examples include military, sport, or competition shooting experience.
Regardless of the source of your expertise, you will need to provide written proof.
This may come in the form of a certificates of completion, military accolades, or evidence of participation in shooting events.
Step 3: Acquire Additional Documentation for Non-Residents
Non-residents of Virginia can also apply for a concealed handgun permit.
However, they must provide the following documentation with their forms:
- Two photographs fulfilling the Virginia State Police’s requirements.
- A complete set of fingerprints on a Virginia State Police Fingerprints Card. To obtain the card you may contact the Virginia State Police. Alternatively, your local law enforcement may collect your fingerprints from you at your request.
Step 4: Fill Out and Submit the Paper Application
Every municipality in Virginia uses the same concealed handgun application form.
Once you’re done filling it out, a certified notary public must authenticate your signature.
You’ll then want to make sure that you have the following:
- A completed, notarized application form.
- Evidence of firearms competence.
- An application fee. This will vary based on the specific court but will not exceed $50.
- If you are a non-resident, you’ll also need to include the photographs and fingerprint impressions from step 3.
Once you have all of that, you can submit your application to your city or county’s circuit court.
After you submit your application, you should hear back from the court within 45 days.
If the court rejected your application, a court clerk will provide you with a written description of the reason why.
If you believe that the court rejected your application unlawfully, seek out legal counsel.
Further, if you are charged with carrying a weapon without a permit, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.