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Open carry of handguns in Virginia

See also: Police Chiefs Magazine: Responding to Gun Possession Reports

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What is “Open Carry”?

OC is the act of carrying a firearm (mostly handguns however rifles and shotguns may be OC’d) in plain sight on your person while conducting your daily business. This normally means a handgun secured in a holster on the outside of your clothing much the same way a police officer would carry their weapon. Alternative options would be a shoulder holster, “in the waistband” holster (providing your shirt is tucked in exposing the butt of the handgun) and tactical / drop leg holsters. “In the waistband” holsters are not considered “concealed” under VA law since about 1/3 of the firearm (the butt) is exposed (See example pictures below). Just take care not to let your shirt come un-tucked and cover the firearm if you are not in possession of a CHP. Carrying a firearm in your hands, whether handgun or long gun is not OC! That is considered “brandishing” and it's against the law. The proper way to OC a rifle or shotgun is with a sling, however OC’ing a rifle or shotgun around town is not common and will likely merit you a visit from the police, possibly with guns drawn on you. 

Is “Open Carry” legal in Virginia?

Virginia enacts all laws pertaining to firearms (except discharge) at the state level. This is called “pre-emption” which means local towns, cities, and counties may not create their own firearms laws. Why is this important? Without pre-emption you might be able to carry a firearm with a 15 round magazine in county “A” but as soon as you crossed the border into county “B” (a new political jurisdiction) their laws might be different; perhaps 10 round magazines are the legal limit there. You have now broken the law by simply crossing an invisible political line from one county to the next. Realizing that citizens could not possibly keep up to date on various laws in every VA locality the state has wisely implemented uniform statewide firearm laws. Now, getting to the point: Is Open Carry legal in VA? The answer can be found in the specific firearms code which you just learned about, the Virginia “pre-emption” law:

§ 15.2-915. Control of firearms; applicability to authorities and local governmental agencies.

A. No locality shall adopt or enforce any ordinance, resolution or motion, as permitted by § 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 § 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.

(1987, c. 629, § 15.1-29.15; 1988, c. 392; 1997, cc. 550, 587; 2002, c. 484; 2003, c. 943; 2004, cc. 837, 923.)

Simply put, the state has sole authority over the creation of firearm laws and has invalidated all previous laws enacted by political entities at lower levels. Virginia currently does not have any law criminalizing open carry, thus OC is legal. You might find someone who would ask “What law allows you to open carry?” under the misguided assumption that laws create privileges. That person actually has things backwards, laws tell you what you cannot do and spell out criminal penalties for breaking said laws.

Further comments regarding OC in Virginia:

Retention: If you decide you want to try OC in Virginia it’s recommended that you use a proper holster specifically fitted for your firearm that implements some form of retention. Retention is a smart idea as it keeps your firearm securely in your holster should someone bump into you or in the worst case scenario try to forcibly take your firearm from you. In the editors opinion, the best retention holsters are the “Serpa Level II Close Quarterss Combat (CQC)” models sold by Blackhawk.

 

Dress: It’s advisable to dress professionally while OC’ing. Experience shows that smartly dressed gun carriers are ignored or assumed to be plain clothes detectives. The owner of this site has received the “law enforcement discount” on numerous occasions while out eating or fetching coffee from 7-Eleven.

 

Manners: Always be polite, say thank you, and be ready to explain why you have a gun. Most people are unaware that OC is legal and your attitude may determine their lasting opinion of gun carriers in public.


Examples of open carry:

Holstered firearm on outside of the belt

 


In the waistband

 


Shoulder holster

 


Drop leg (tactical) holster (Not recommended unless you are Jack Bauer)