Last Updated: May 20, 2018
Disclaimer: While the information provided here is legal in nature, it is not to be construed as legal advice, and is for educational and entertainment purposes only.
It can be tricky trying to navigate the maze of gun laws at the federal and state level, making sure you keep track of the ones that might affect you and keep you from exercising your Second Amendment rights.
Lucky for you, Virginia is a relatively free state when it comes to guns, and there are only a few laws that you’ll need to worry about to make sure you stay on the right side of the law.
We’ve got everything you need to know about how to buy a gun and be a responsible gun owner in the Old Dominion!
Buying a handgun
Like most gun-friendly states, Virginia mostly follows federal firearms laws when it comes to purchasing and owning firearms. No permit is required to purchase firearms in Virginia, though there are still some basic requirements that have to be met.
To buy a handgun, you must:
- Be 21 or older;
- Provide state ID; and
- Have a background check performed by a licensed firearms dealer.
If the idea of a background check sounds like a hassle, there are a few situations where you can avoid it completely.
The first way to avoid a background check when buying a gun, even if it is from a gun store, is if you are buying an antique firearm. You’ll need to be sure the firearm qualifies as an antique, however, or you’ll be in for a load of trouble.
An antique firearm is:
- Any firearm that was manufactured before 1899; or
- A replica of a firearm manufactured before 1899, that is not designed or redesigned to use rimfire or centerfire ammo that is no longer commercially available in the US.
The second way to avoid a background check is if you purchase a handgun from a private seller. What is required, however, is that both you and the seller have to be residents of the state. This means no selling your handgun to your cousin from California who’s in town for a visit.
Even if you meet all those requirements, however, there are still some situations where you would be prohibited from buying firearms.
You are prohibited from firearm purchase if you:
- Are under indictment for a felony offense;
- Are the subject of an active misdemeanor or felony arrest warrant from any state;
- Have been convicted, as an adult, in any court of a felony offense;
- Are 28 years old or younger, and have been adjudicated delinquent as a juvenile 14 years of age or older at the time of offense of a delinquent act, which would be a felony if committed by an adult;
- Were adjudicated as a juvenile 14 years of age or older at the time of the offense of murder, kidnapping, robbery by the threat or presentation of firearms, or rape;
- Have been convicted of a misdemeanor crime punishable by more than 2 years;
- Have an outstanding protective or restraining order against you that involves your spouse, a former spouse, an individual with whom you share a child in common, or someone you cohabited with as an intimate partner;
- Have an outstanding protective or restraining order against you that involves stalking, sexual battery, alleged abuse or acts of violence against a family or household member;
- You an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana, or any depressant, stimulant, or narcotic drug, or any controlled substance;
- Have been acquitted by reason of insanity;
- Have been adjudicated legally incompetent or mentally incapacitated, or adjudicated an incapacitated person;
- Have been involuntarily admitted to a facility or involuntarily ordered to outpatient mental health treatment;
- Have been the subject of a temporary detention order and subsequently agreed to voluntarily admission for mental health treatment;
- Have been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable discharge;
- Are an alien illegally in the United States;
- Are a nonimmigrant alien;
- Are a person who, having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced your citizenship;
- Have been convicted for the misdemeanor crime of domestic violence; or
- You are a person who, within a 36 month period, within the last 5 years, has been convicted under Virginia law of 2 misdemeanor offenses for Possession of Controlled Substance or Possession of Marijuana.
It’s a big list, so make sure you read through everything to make sure you don’t fall into any of those categories! Once you’ve checked (and rechecked!) and are sure none of those situations apply to you, you’re good to go!
Don’t forget about long guns!
As exciting as a handgun purchase is, adding a couple of long guns to your collection should be right up there at the top of the list too! Fortunately, the requirements for buying a long gun are not as strict as those for buying handguns. No permit is required to buy a long gun.
To buy a long gun, you must:
- Be 18 or older;
- Provide ID; and
- Have a background check performed by a licensed firearms dealer.
Avoiding background checks for long guns is slightly easier than with handguns since there is no requirement that the buyer and seller both have to be residents of Virginia. You’ll still want to make sure you’re selling to someone who’s actually allowed to own a firearm though, just to be safe.
Once you’ve got your long guns, whether a rifle or shotgun, you’ll want to be careful about how you modify them. Sawed-off shotguns and sawed-off rifles are illegal in the state! While the names imply sawing off portions of the barrels, as long as the firearms meet the definitions of a sawed-off shotgun and sawed-off rifle, they are illegal, whether you actually saw them or not.
A “sawed-off” shotgun is any weapon that is originally designed as a shoulder weapon, using cartridges that shoot ball shot pellets or projectiles fired from a smooth or rifled bore by a single action, that has a barrel length of less than 18 inches (for smooth bore) or 16 inches (for rifled bore).
Basically, any shotgun you have, depending on the type of bore, will need to meet the length requirements to not be considered a “sawed-off” shotgun.
A “sawed-off” rifle, on the other hand, is a rifle that is designed as a shoulder weapon with a barrel length or less than 16 inches or an overall length of less than 26 inches.
What about the children?
If you don’t meet the age requirements to buy a handgun or long gun, there’s still hope! Even if you are under the age limit, you can still use and transport firearms if you:
- Are in your home or property;
- Are in the home or property of your parents, grandparents, or legal guardian; or
- Are on the property of someone who has granted permission previously for you to use and have firearms on the property, and has the permission of your parents, grandparents, or legal guardian to be on that property with firearms;
- Are going to/from a shooting range or firearms education class, as long as you are accompanied by an adult;
- Are hunting (with a permit) or going to/from hunting areas; or
- Are carrying out your duties in the Armed Forces or National Guard.
Another thing to keep in mind is that if you are 18 or older but still under 21, you can still own a handgun, but it will have to be through a private transfer, rather than buying one from a licensed firearms dealer. Be nice to your parents and maybe they’ll give you one for Christmas!
As a gun-friendly state, Virginia does not require firearms registration, and you don’t need to obtain a permit to open carry your firearms. Even in declared states of emergency, the carrying and transporting firearms cannot be limited or suspended! America!
There are some places that prohibit firearms in general, however, regardless of whether you are carrying openly or concealed.
Firearms are prohibited from:
- A place of worship while a meeting for religious purposes is being held;
- Public, private, or religious schools including:
- School buildings and the surrounding grounds;
- Areas on school grounds open to the public that are used for school-sponsored activities while the activities are taking place; or
- School buses owned or operated by the school.
It’s also just a good idea to keep your firearms in the car if you are stopping off somewhere with metal detectors. Those are usually pretty good indicator firearms aren’t allowed.
In addition to those statewide restrictions, some cities and counties in the state that are significantly less gun-friendly than the rest, have prohibited the carry of loaded firearms as well.
Specifically, these places prohibit:
- Semi-automatic centerfire rifles or pistols, with magazines carrying more than 20 rounds or equipped with silencers or a folding stock; and
- Shotguns with magazines capable of carrying more than 7 cartridges.
The cities with these prohibitions are:
- Falls Church
- Newport News
- Virginia Beach
Additionally, the counties prohibiting the carrying of these firearms include:
- Prince William
If you live in any of these areas, you will, unfortunately, have to follow these set of rules different from the rest of the state. It wouldn’t hurt to consider moving somewhere outside of these counties either, though!
For those of you who want to carry concealed, you will generally need to apply for a CCW permit in order to do so. If you are interested in the process, hop on over to our Virginia CCW Laws section to check out what’s required to get your permit, and the additional laws you’ll need to be aware of when carrying concealed.
If you aren’t interested in concealed carry or want to hold off for now, there are still situations where you can carry concealed without a permit.
You can carry concealed (without a permit) if you:
- Are carrying in your house and the surrounding area (i.e. your yard, but not your neighbor’s yard!);
- Are carrying a loaded handgun in an unlocked compartment or container in your vehicle within reach of the driver or passenger; or
- Are hunting (with a permit!).
On the road
If you are not carrying concealed, you’ll need to be careful to follow the rules on transporting your firearms. Generally, you will need to keep your handgun secured in a container or compartment if you are traveling. This compartment or container does not need to be locked but just has to be secured.
When transporting long guns, it is illegal to carry a loaded rifle or shotgun on any public street, road, or highway. Basically, the moment you pull out of your driveway, you’ll need to have the long guns unloaded, and stowed away in a secured container. On the bright side, you can have your trusty sidearm ready to go and fight your way to your long guns if necessary.
Defending your freedom
When it comes to self-defense of the shooty kind, Virginia, unfortunately, has nothing specific on the books regarding the use of deadly force. However, there are court cases that can provide some guidance for you and the jury you may have to face if you are ever in a self-defense shooting situation.
Guarding the castle
The commonly known “Castle Doctrine” refers to using deadly force to defend yourself or your loved ones while in your home. Cases in the state have generally agreed that, as long as you have not done anything illegal yourself, and did not provoke the other person, you are justified in using deadly force to defend yourself.
Standing your ground
Just like with the Castle Doctrine, the state legislature has not passed any specific laws regarding self-defense using deadly force while outside the home, let alone addressing whether or not you are required to retreat when faced with a deadly threat.
Based on court cases in the state, however, just like with defending your home, as long as you are not the initial aggressor in a confrontation, you are not required to retreat and can use deadly force to defend yourself, if necessary.
Of course, since none of this is written in the law, if you are ever in court defending your decision to use deadly force against someone, you would have to rely on the precedent set by the courts, which is not ideal. If given the option to safely retreat or engage the threat, your best bet would be to escape to safety, rather than face the threat, and then later, the jury.
More than that, taking a life is a serious decision, and you should always use your best judgment to decide what type of force is appropriate, or if it is necessary to stand your ground when retreating may be the safer option for you and others around you.
And with that, we’re done! You now know everything there is to know about gun laws in the great state of Virginia! If you are interested in getting that CCW permit so you can carry while running errands around town without broadcasting it to the world, be sure to check out our Virginia CCW section for all the info.
If you don’t need to know about the carry permit laws just yet, that’s ok too! You can work on your gun collection instead! You might want a nice safe to keep all your new toys though. A sturdy safe can also keep your guns from prying eyes and curious kids.
If you want to start smaller, a gun cabinet or even just a decent handgun safe may be a good investment, so all those rifles can have a quiet place to rest after a busy day at the range. Now get out there and pew pew!