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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
- Counties may impose limited prohibitions on possession of a loaded firearm on public highways.
- 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.
- Cities and counties may prohibit the transportation, possession or carrying of loaded shotguns or rifles in any vehicle on any public street, road, or highway
- Municipalities may prohibit the discharge of firearms, and may require the maintenance of safety devices on storage equipment for firearms.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.