In the immediate wake of the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, many people are asking if it is legal to carry a firearm in a church in Virginia. Very few churches (or other places of worship) employ professional security personnel or off-duty police officers. Fewer still have any sort of emergency plan in place for a hostile attack. Most people assume (or hope) that an evil act of violence “can’t happen here.”
But evil knows no geographical limits. And one of the best ways to stop an evil, cowardly murderer is for good and honorable people to respond with immediate and overwhelming violence of action.
With those thoughts in mind, and with the immediacy of the topic apparent, this article is meant to be a concise summary of Virginia law as it relates to carrying in a church.
The short answer: For the most part, yes, but there are some limitations.
This article is broken into three parts:
Virginia law allows carrying a weapon in a place of worship “with good and sufficient reason."
A church, just like any other private property owner, can choose to prohibit carrying a firearm on its property. If the church asks the person to leave, and that person refuses, the person can (and should) be charged with criminal trespass.
Individuals must still comply with all other firearms laws.
Virginia Code §18.2-283 states:
If any person carry any gun, pistol, bowie knife, dagger or other dangerous weapon, without good and sufficient reason, to a place of worship while a meeting for religious purposes is being held at such place he shall be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.
This begs the obvious question: What does “good and sufficient reason” mean?
This is an incredibly vague and ambiguous statute. There are no reported cases, that I am aware of, addressing the interpretation or application of this statute.
In 2011, the Attorney General’s Office released an opinion stating that “carrying a weapon for personal protection” constituted a “good and sufficient reason." It is important to note that an Attorney General’s Opinion is not binding on a court. That is, a court can reach a different conclusion. That being said, the Attorney General’s Opinion is sound and provides significant persuasive authority on which one may rely.
Note: A Class 4 misdemeanor has a maximum punishment of a $250 fine. It is not a "jailable offense."
Just like any other private property owner, a church can choose whom it allows onto its property and whom it excludes from its property. If a church tells someone to leave the property, that person must leave. If the person does not leave, they can be charged with trespass. Plain and simple.
Similarly, a church can choose to prohibit firearms on its property. If someone carries a firearm onto the property, the church can ask that person to leave. If that person refuses to leave, they can (and should) be charged with trespass. Plain and simple.
If an individual chooses to carry a firearm for personal protection that individual must obey all of other various laws regarding possession and use of firearms.
This is a short, non-exhaustive list of some of the laws that may come into play:
Unless exempted by law, the individual must have a Concealed Handgun Permit (CHP) in order to conceal a handgun.
The individual must not be prohibited from possessing firearms (e.g., felons without restoration, mental health commitments without restoration, protective orders, domestic violence convictions, etc.).
An individual may not carry a firearm onto K-12 school property, even if it is being used as a church on Sunday. See Virginia Code §18.2-308.1.
A large number of small churches use public or private schools to hold worship services on Sundays. A K-12 school (public or private) is still a school, even on weekends, and even if no school activities are being held.
The individual must know Virginia laws on self-defense and use of force.
This article is only intended as a general overview. This article is not intended to be a substitute for specific legal advice. No one should make any decision based off of an article from the internet. If you have questions about Virginia law, you should call the office for an advice consultation or seek out your own attorney who can provide specific legal advice.