Gun Shows in Virginia

In 2016, Virginia enacted a law requiring the State Police to be available at gun shows to conduct background checks on purchasers or transferees of firearms at the request of the parties to the transaction. The law provides immunity from liability to any person who sells or transfers a firearm to a person after receiving a determination from the State Police that the person is not prohibited from possessing a firearm. The promoter of a gun show must provide adequate space for the State Police to make these determinations, and must ensure that a notice that these determinations are available is prominently displayed at the show.1 Virginia law still does not require unlicensed sellers and transferors to seek this background check before the sale or transfer of a gun at a gun show.

Virginia law requires any person, firm, corporation, club, association, or organization holding a firearms show to give notice at least 30 days prior to the show to the State Police and the sheriff or chief of police of the locality in which the firearms show will be held.2 The notice must be given on a form provided by the State Police. A separate notice is required for each firearms show.3

The promoter must also maintain for the duration of the show a list of all vendors or exhibitors in the show for immediate inspection by any law-enforcement authorities.4 Within five days after the conclusion of the show, the promoter must transmit a copy of the complete vendor or exhibitor list to the law-enforcement authorities to which the 30-day prior notice was required. The vendor or exhibitor list must contain the full name and residence address and the business name and address, if any, of the vendors or exhibitors.5

Virginia law exempts from these requirements any firearms shows held in any town with a population of not less than 1,995 and not more than 2,010, according to the 1990 United States census.6

See the Virginia Private Sales section for additional state laws that may apply at gun shows.

See our Gun Shows policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

  1. 2016 VA H.B. 1386 (to be codified at Va. Code Ann. 54.1-4201.2). ⤴︎
  2. Va. Code Ann. § 54.1-4201.1(A). ⤴︎
  3. Id. ⤴︎
  4. Id. ⤴︎
  5. Id. ⤴︎
  6. Va. Code Ann. § 54.1-4201.1(C). ⤴︎

Guns in Schools in Virginia

Virginia prohibits the knowing possession of any firearm on:

  • Any public, private or religious elementary, middle or high school, including buildings and grounds;
  • That portion of any property open to the public and exclusively used for school-sponsored functions or extracurricular activities while such functions or activities are taking place; and
  • Any school bus owned or operated by such school.1

The law provides exceptions for any person who possesses:

  • A firearm as a part of the school’s curriculum or activities;
  • A firearm as a part of any program sponsored or facilitated by either the school or any organization authorized by the school to conduct its programs either on or off the school premises;
  • An unloaded firearm in a closed container in or upon a motor vehicle, or an unloaded shotgun or rifle in a firearms rack in or upon a motor vehicle; or
  • A valid concealed handgun permit and 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.2

In 2010, the Supreme Court of Virginia rejected a challenge to George Mason University’s regulation restricting the possession and carrying of firearms inside campus buildings and at campus events.3 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 this public university, and in other places on campus not enumerated in the regulation.4

See our Guns in Schools policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

  1. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-308.1(B). Va. Code Ann. § 22.1-277.07(A) provides that a school board must expel for at least one year any student who has brought a firearm, air rifle or BB gun onto school property or to a school-sponsored activity. Also see Op. Att’y Gen. Va. 03-083 (2003), 2003 Va. AG LEXIS 46 (opining that the school board may discipline a student in possession of an unloaded firearm in a locked vehicle trunk). ⤴︎
  2. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-308.1(B). ⤴︎
  3. Digiacinto v. Rector & Visitors of George Mason Univ., 704 S.E.2d 365, 369 (Va. 2011). ⤴︎
  4. Id. ⤴︎

Guns in Vehicles in Virginia

While Virginia generally prohibits any person from carrying a concealed firearm about the person, this prohibition does not apply to individuals licensed to carry a concealed handgun.1 In addition, a law enacted in Virginia in 2010 exempts from the general prohibition against carrying concealed weapons any person who may lawfully possess a firearm and is carrying a handgun while in a personal, private motor vehicle or vessel if the handgun is secured in a container or compartment.2

Local governments are also prohibited from adopting a workplace rule that prevents their employees from storing lawfully possessed firearms in their locked vehicles while parking at work.3

  1. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-308(A). The prohibition also does not apply to any person carrying such weapons between his place of abode and a place of purchase or repair, provided the weapons are unloaded and securely wrapped while being transported. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-308(B)(5). ⤴︎
  2. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-308(B)(10). See also Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-287.4. (stating that “The exemptions set forth in § 18.2-308 shall apply, mutatis mutandis, to the provisions of this section.”). ⤴︎
  3. Va. Code Ann. § 15.2-915 ⤴︎

Immunity Statutes in Virginia

Virginia law states that localities do not have the authority to bring suit against a firearms or ammunition marketer, manufacturer, distributor, dealer, seller, or trade association for damages, abatement, injunctive relief or any other remedy resulting from or relating to the lawful design, marketing, manufacture, distribution, sale, or transfer of firearms or ammunition to the public. This provision applies equally to any state governmental entity, including a department, agency, or authority. The right to bring any such action is reserved exclusively to the Attorney General on behalf of the Commonwealth.1 Localities may bring an action, however, against a firearms or ammunition marketer, manufacturer, distributor, dealer, seller, or trade association for breach of contract or warranty or negligence as to firearms or ammunition purchased by the locality or for injuries resulting from negligence or breach of warranty or contract.2

See our policy page on Gun Industry Immunity for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

  1. Va. Code Ann. § 15.2-915.1. ⤴︎
  2. Id. ⤴︎

Local Authority to Regulate Firearms in Virginia

Home Rule

Virginia Code Annotated section 15.2-1200 states:

“[a]ny county may adopt such measures as it deems expedient to secure and promote the health, safety and general welfare of its inhabitants which are not inconsistent with the general laws of the Commonwealth.”

Section 15.2-1102 makes a comparable grant of general police powers to cities and towns.

Preemption Statutes

Virginia has enacted a preemption statute that was significantly amended in 2004. Section 15.2-915 provides:

A. No locality shall adopt or enforce any ordinance, resolution or motion, as permitted by [section] 15.2-1425, and no agent of such locality shall take any administrative action, governing the purchase, possession, transfer, ownership, carrying, storage or transporting of firearms, ammunition, or components or combination thereof other than those expressly authorized by statute. For purposes of this section, a statute that does not refer to firearms, ammunition, or components or combination thereof, shall not be construed to provide express authorization.

Nothing in this section shall prohibit a locality from adopting workplace rules relating to terms and conditions of employment of the workforce. Nothing in this section shall prohibit a law-enforcement officer, as defined in [section] 9.1-101 from acting within the scope of his duties.

The provisions of this section applicable to a locality shall also apply to any authority or to a local governmental entity, including a department or agency, but not including any local or regional jail or juvenile detention facility.

B. Any local ordinance, resolution or motion adopted prior to the effective date of this act governing the purchase, possession, transfer, ownership, carrying or transporting of firearms, ammunition, or components or combination thereof, other than those expressly authorized by statute, is invalid.

In 2009, Virginia amended section 15.2-915 to authorize a court to award reasonable attorney fees, expenses, and court costs to any person, group, or entity that prevails in an action challenging: (i) an ordinance, resolution, or motion as being in conflict with section 15.2-915; or (ii) an administrative action taken in bad faith as being in conflict with section 15.2-915.1

Furthermore, in 2012, the legislature amended the preemption statute to prohibit a local government from adopting a workplace rule that prevents an employee of the locality from storing a lawfully possessed firearm in the employee’s locked car which is parked at the workplace.2

In 2010, Virginia repealed a law that had allowed counties to require sellers of handguns to furnish the clerk of the circuit court “with the name and address of the purchaser, the date of the purchase, and the number, make and caliber of the weapon sold” within 10 days of any handgun sale.3 The repealed law had also allowed a county to impose a license tax up to $25 on persons engaged in the business of selling handguns to the public.4


Virginia expressly authorizes the following types of local firearm ordinances:

  • Counties may prohibit the outdoor shooting of firearms in areas so heavily populated as to make such conduct dangerous to the inhabitants.5
  • Counties may impose limited prohibitions on possession of a loaded firearm on public highways.6
  • Municipalities and counties may prohibit hunting with firearms in or within one-half mile of any area so heavily populated as to make such hunting dangerous to the inhabitants.7
  • Cities and counties may prohibit the transportation, possession or carrying of loaded shotguns or rifles in any vehicle on any public street, road, or highway8
  • Municipalities may prohibit the discharge of firearms, and may require the maintenance of safety devices on storage equipment for firearms.9
  • Certain Northern Virginia cities and counties may adopt local ordinances regulating the possession and storage of firearms, ammunition, or components or combination thereof at child-care facilities, so long as such regulation is not more extensive in scope than comparable state regulations applicable to family day-care homes.10

Section 22.1-277.07:1 provides:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, each school division may develop and implement procedures addressing disciplinary actions against students, and may establish disciplinary policies prohibiting the possession of firearms on school property, school buses, and at school-sponsored activities.

For information about permissible ordinances governing pneumatic guns, see Non-Powder Guns in Virginia.


Prior to a 2004 amendment, section 15.2-915 only prohibited the adoption of new ordinances not specifically authorized by statute and did not prevent the enforcement of ordinances that had been adopted before January 1, 1987. Section 15.2-915 now prevents the enforcement of all local firearms ordinances not specifically authorized by statute, even those adopted prior to January 1, 1987 – ordinances that remained valid under the previous preemption statute. The amendment leaves in doubt the validity of the following ordinances previously declared valid in opinions by Virginia’s Attorney General, and one previously declared valid by the Supreme Court of Virginia:

  • In Stallings v. Wall, 367 S.E.2d 496, 498 (Va. 1988), the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled that an ordinance requiring a permit to buy a handgun was “implied in and incident to the grant of police power” set forth in that provision. The Supreme Court’s decision in Stallings prompted the General Assembly’s adoption of the original section 15.2-915 (previously section 15.1-29-15).
  • In Op. Att’y Gen. Va. 29 (1994), 1994 Va. AG LEXIS 4, the Attorney General examined a York County ordinance regulating shooting ranges. The Attorney General concluded that since the law “imposes no obligation on the individual owner of any firearm,” nothing in section 15.2-915 (previously § 15.1-29-15), or any other statute, prohibits any of these regulations.11
  • In Op. Att’y Gen. Va. 94 (1997), 1997 Va. AG LEXIS 24, the Attorney General opined that a person desiring to bring a firearm, including a concealed handgun permitted under section 18.2-308(H), into a community center facility or police station can be required to register and provide information about the firearm involved under a county ordinance, and that such a law is not preempted by former section 15.2-915.

Other Relevant Provisions

Section 15.2-917 provides that an ordinance regulating any noise cannot subject a sport shooting range to noise control standards more stringent than those in effect at the time the construction or operation of the range initially was approved, or at the time any application was submitted for the construction or operation of the range.

Additionally, in 2012, Virginia enacted a law prohibiting local governments or government agents from conducting a gun buy-back program unless the governing body of the locality enacted an ordinance authorizing the buy-back. Furthermore, any guns purchased from a buy-back must be re-sold to a licensed firearms dealer.12


For state laws prohibiting local units of government (i.e., cities and counties) from filing certain types of lawsuits against the gun industry, see our page on Immunity Statutes in Virginia.

  1. Va. Code Ann. § 15.2-915(C). ⤴︎
  2. Va. Code Ann. § 15.2-915(A). ⤴︎
  3. 2010 Va. ALS 495 (amending Va. Code Ann. § 15.2-1207). ⤴︎
  4. Id. (repealing former Va. Code Ann. § 15.2-1206). ⤴︎
  5. Va. Code Ann. § 15.2-1209. ⤴︎
  6. Va. Code Ann. § 15.2-1209.1. ⤴︎
  7. Va. Code Ann. §§ 15.2-1113.1 (municipalities), 15.2-1210 (counties). ⤴︎
  8. Va. Code Ann. § 15.2-915.2. ⤴︎
  9. Va. Code Ann. § 15.2-1113. ⤴︎
  10. Va. Code Ann. § 15.2-914. ⤴︎
  11. Op. Att’y Gen. Va. 29 (1994), 1994 Va. AG LEXIS 4, *6-*7. ⤴︎
  12. Va. Code Ann. § 15.2-915.5 ⤴︎

Locking Devices in Virginia

Virginia law does not require a locking device to accompany the sale of a firearm (although the federal law applies). Virginia law also does not require firearm owners to lock their weapons, although it is unlawful for any person to recklessly leave a loaded, unsecured firearm in such a manner as to endanger the life or limb of any child under the age of 14.1 State administrative regulations may also govern the secure control of firearms in certain locations.

See our Locking Devices policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

  1. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-56.2. ⤴︎

Machine Guns & Automatic Firearms in Virginia

Virginia law allows the possession of a machine gun for scientific purposes or for any purpose manifestly not aggressive or offensive.1 However, Virginia law requires every machine gun to be registered with the Department of State Police within 24 hours after its acquisition.2 Possession or use of a machine gun is presumed to be for an offensive or aggressive purpose when: (i) the machine gun is on premises not owned or rented for bona fide permanent residence or business occupancy by the person in whose possession the machine gun may be found; (ii) the machine gun is in the possession of, or used by, a person who has been convicted of a crime of violence; (iii) the machine gun has not been registered as required by Virginia law; or (iv) empty or loaded shells which have been or are susceptible of use in the machine gun are found in the immediate vicinity thereof.3

An application to register a machine gun must be notarized and show the model and serial number of the gun, the name, address and occupation of the person in possession, and from whom and the purpose for which the gun was acquired or altered.4 The Superintendent of State Police must furnish the registrant with a certificate of registration, which is valid as long as the registrant remains the same. Certificates of registration must be retained by the registrant and produced by him or her upon demand by any peace officer.5 Any peace officer may, without warrant, seize any machine gun if the owner does not comply. Upon transferring a registered machine gun, the transferor must notify the Superintendent, in writing, setting forth the date of transfer and name and address of the transferee. Registration data is not subject to inspection by the public.6

Every manufacturer or dealer must keep a register of all machine guns manufactured or handled by him or her that shows the model and serial number, date of manufacture, sale, loan, gift, delivery or receipt of every machine gun, the name, address, and occupation of the person to whom the machine gun was sold, loaned, given or delivered, or from whom it was received.7 Upon demand every manufacturer or dealer must permit any marshal, sheriff, or police officer to inspect his or her entire stock of machine guns, parts, and supplies therefor, and shall produce the register for inspection.8

“Machine gun” means “any weapon which shoots or is designed to shoot automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.”9

Federal law requires machine guns to be registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), and generally prohibits the transfer or possession of machine guns manufactured after May 19, 1986.10 In December 2018, ATF finalized a rule to include bump stocks within the definition of a machine gun subject to this federal law, meaning that bump stocks will be generally banned as of March 26, 2019.11

See our Machine Guns policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

  1. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-293.1. Unlawful possession or use of a machine gun for an offensive or aggressive purpose is a Class 4 felony. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-290. ⤴︎
  2. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-295. See also Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-293.1. ⤴︎
  3. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-291. ⤴︎
  4. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-295. ⤴︎
  5. Id. ⤴︎
  6. Id. ⤴︎
  7. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-294. ⤴︎
  8. Id. ⤴︎
  9. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-288(1). ⤴︎
  10. 18 U.S.C. § 922(o); 26 U.S.C. § 5861(d). ⤴︎
  11. Bump-Stock-Type Devices, 83 Fed. Reg. 66,514 (Dec. 26, 2018) (to be codified at 27 C.F.R. pts. 447, 478, 479). ⤴︎

Mental Health Reporting in Virginia

See our Mental Health Reporting policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Federal law prohibits possession of a firearm or ammunition by any person who has been “adjudicated as a mental defective” or involuntarily “committed to any mental institution.”1 No federal law, however, requires states to report the identities of these individuals to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) database, which the FBI uses to perform background checks prior to firearm transfers.

Pursuant to a 2008 Virginia law, clerks of court must certify and forward “forthwith” to the Central Criminal Records Exchange (“Exchange”) a copy of any order for treatment issued upon a finding that a defendant, including a juvenile, is incompetent. Such treatment includes both inpatient treatment in a hospital and outpatient treatment.2

The 2008 Virginia law also requires clerks of court to certify and forward to the Exchange a copy of any order from a commitment hearing for: 1) involuntary admission to a mental health facility, as soon as practicable but no later than the close of business on the next business day; or 2) mandatory outpatient treatment, prior to the close of that business day.3 Clerks of court must also forward to the Exchange, as soon as practicable but no later than the close of business on the next business day, certification of any person who has agreed to voluntary admission in a mental health facility after being the subject of a temporary detention.4 Copies of the orders sent to the Exchange must be kept confidential in a separate file and used only to determine firearms eligibility. The Department of State Police (“DSP”) may forward “only a person’s eligibility to possess, purchase, or transfer a firearm to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.”5 Clerks of court must certify and forward “forthwith” to the Exchange copies of any order adjudicating a person incapacitated as well as an order restoring a person’s capacity. The order and the accompanying forms must be kept confidential and in a separate file and may be used only to determine firearm eligibility.6 Identical provisions apply to an order for involuntary admission or mandatory outpatient treatment for a minor 14 years of age or older or the certification of a minor 14 years or older who has agreed to voluntary admission in a mental health facility after being the subject of a temporary detention.7

The chief law enforcement officer of a county or city must ensure that any acquittal by reason of insanity is reported to the Exchange immediately following the acquittal.8 In addition, court clerks and/or law enforcement (depending on the type of charge) are required to submit reports to the Exchange regarding certain criminal charges that remain pending due to mental incompetency or incapacity of the defendant. Court clerks must submit these reports electronically.9

Court clerks must certify and forward to the Exchange copies of any order granting a petition to restore the right to purchase, possess or transport a firearm to a person previously ineligible due to any of the conditions mentioned above.10 Such petitions must be granted if a court determines that the circumstances regarding the firearms prohibition and the person’s criminal history, treatment record, and reputation are such that the person will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety and that the granting of the relief would not be contrary to the public interest.11

In response to the Virginia Tech tragedy, Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine issued an Executive Order on April 30, 2007 directing all executive branch employees and law enforcement officials to consider court-ordered outpatient treatment as involuntary admission to a mental health facility, and to report it to the State Police and NICS.12 In 2008, this order was partially codified by several of the provisions described above.

In 2014, Virginia enacted a law requires judges and special justices to forward the information above to the clerk of the court “as soon as practicable, but no later than the close of business on the next business day.”13

Note that a 2002 Virginia Attorney General Opinion determined that the Department of State Police is authorized to provide mental health information to the FBI so long as the information is kept confidential and used only to determine a person’s eligibility to possess, purchase or transfer a firearm.14

For general information on the background check process and categories of prohibited purchasers or possessors, see the Virginia Background Checks section and the section entitled Prohibited Purchasers Generally.

  1. 18 U.S.C. § 922(d)(4). ⤴︎
  2. Va. Code Ann. § 19.2-169.2. ⤴︎
  3. Va. Code Ann. § 37.2-819. ⤴︎
  4. Id. ⤴︎
  5. Id. ⤴︎
  6. Va. Code Ann. § 64.2-1014. ⤴︎
  7. Va. Code Ann. § 16.1-337.1. ⤴︎
  8. Va. Code Ann. § 19.2-390. ⤴︎
  9. Id. ⤴︎
  10. Va. Code Ann. §§ 18.2-308.1:1, 18.2-308.1:2, 18.2-308.1:3. ⤴︎
  11. Id. ⤴︎
  12. Va. Exec. Order No. 50 (April 30, 2007). ⤴︎
  13. Va. Code Ann. § 37.2-819. ⤴︎
  14. Va. Att’y Gen. Op. No. 01-062, 2002 Va. AG LEXIS 72 (April 4, 2002). ⤴︎