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Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. 2023 ‘State Right to Bear Arms in Virginia.’ Other Laws & Policies. San Francisco, CA: Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. 6 February

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State Right to Bear Arms in Virginia

Article I, § 13 of the Virginia Constitution states:

That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state, therefore, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.

In Digiacinto v. Rector & Visitors of George Mason Univ., the Supreme Court of Virginia rejected an art. I, § 13 challenge to a public university's regulation restricting the possession and carrying of firearms inside campus buildings and at campus events. The Court held that "the protection of the right to bear arms expressed in [art. I, § 13] is co-extensive with the rights provided by" the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Court pointed out that the regulation was tailored, restricting weapons only in those places where people congregate and are most vulnerable. Individuals could still carry or possess weapons on the open grounds of the university, and in other places on campus not enumerated in the regulation. Accordingly, the Court upheld the regulation, because the restriction only affected "sensitive places" as that phrase was used in District of Columbia v. Heller.

In addition, in Stallings v. Wall, the Supreme Court of Virginia, citing Va. Code Ann. § 15.1-839 (enumerating municipal powers, and subsequently recodified as Va. Code Ann. § 15.2-1102), ruled that an ordinance requiring a permit to buy a handgun was not "expressly prohibited by the [Virginia] Constitution and the general laws of the Commonwealth."

The Attorney General of Virginia has opined that art. I, § 13 would not invalidate an ordinance prohibiting the discharge of weapons in or along roads or within one hundred yards of a building. Citing Digiacinto, the Attorney General reiterated that the protections afforded by art. I, § 13 are co-extensive with those of the Second Amendment. The Attorney General reasoned that the ordinance does not implicate the core concerns of the right to bear arms, because it specifically exempts from its scope actions taken in defense of self, others or property. Second, it does not preclude anyone from carrying a firearm, but simply prohibits certain uses of a firearm. Moreover, the ordinance "serves a proper purpose, to protect the public safety, by prohibiting firearm discharges on roads or near occupied buildings."

The Attorney General of Virginia also cited art. I, § 13 and the Second Amendment in opining that carrying a weapon for personal protection constitutes a sufficient reason under Virginia law to carry a weapon into a place of worship while a meeting for religious purposes is being held there. The Attorney General noted, however, that the Second Amendment acts as a restraint on government, not private parties, so churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious entities can, like any other owner of property, restrict or ban the carrying of weapons onto their private property.

The Attorney General has also opined that, despite art. I, § 13, a private entity leasing government property for an event generally may regulate or prohibit the carrying or possession of firearms on that property for such event.

The Attorney General of Virginia has also opined that art. I, § 13 would not prevent the state from restricting handgun purchases to one per person within a 30-day period (a law now codified in Section 18.2-308.2:2(P)). The Attorney General based this conclusion on legislative history indicating art. I, § 13 was intended to be synonymous with the Second Amendment.

Finally, Virginia's Attorney General has also opined that art. I, § 13 and the Second Amendment together prevent the University of Virginia from generally prohibiting firearms on campus. However, these provisions do not prevent the University from prohibiting students and University employees from carrying firearms on campus, even if those individuals hold state permits to carry concealed handguns, since specific statutes grant the University authority to regulate the conduct of students and University employees…

[Editor's note: The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence regularly updates its webpages with new data as US gun regulation evolves state by state. For the most up-to-date information on US gun laws, please refer to the Giffords URL below]

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