The following is a video transcript.
We regularly get questions regarding the modification of firearms in Virginia. These questions range from general “Can I modify my gun” questions to questions about very specific modification. I want to address some of the more common questions that we get.
Can My Gun Modifications Be Used Against Me?
The first question is, “Will modifications to my everyday carry gun be used against me in court if I am in a defensive shooting?” The answer here is every attorney’s favorite response: it depends. I cannot tell you one way or another if your modifications will be used against you. But I can tell you if you do not modify your weapon, it is a non-issue.
However, I carry a Glock with some modifications because I like the way it handles with a few subtle changes. While a prosecutor may argue modifications to a weapon might show something about your intent, as a defense attorney, I would argue the changes are irrelevant, and in legal speak are more prejudicial than probative. This means I would argue the prosecutor should not be able to mention your modifications to a jury because the mention of them is more likely to turn the jury against you rather than prove anything.
I would recommend against modifications which present violent or vulgar sayings on your weapon. While I know of a case where a defense attorney was able to keep a violent saying on his client’s weapon from being mentioned by the prosecutor in the courtroom, it is not an argument I want to make. In my opinion, vulgar and violent sayings are best left off weapons.
Vertical Foregrips On Handguns
The second question revolves around vertical foregrips on handguns. If a pistol was modified to add a vertical foregrip on the front of the weapon, it will now be legally classified as an any other weapon (“AOW”) by the ATF and will require you to pay for a tax stamp. Vertical foregrips are legal to own, as long as they are not placed on a handgun.
The definition of a handgun is a weapon which is intended to be fired by one hand, so the addition of a vertical foregrip makes it so the weapon is now intended to be used with two hands. This modification changes the weapon from a handgun to an AOW, and it is now a prohibited weapon unless you obtain the proper documentation.
Bump Stocks and Binary Triggers
A final modification question which occasionally comes up is about adding things like binary triggers or bump stocks to a weapon in order to speed up their rate of fire. Bump stocks are now illegal and considered contraband. Bump stocks had to be destroyed or surrendered prior to March 26, 2019, in order to avoid criminal liability. This is because the ATF did what many consider to be some “wand waving” to include bump stocks in the definition of a machinegun. With no grace period to register them, all bump stocks became illegal in March. Binary triggers are a different story and are still considered legal under federal law, as are several other similar modifications.
As a final reminder, any modification that would allow a weapon to shoot more than one round per pull of the trigger is considered an illegal making of a machinegun and is illegal under both federal and Virginia law.
If you have any other questions regarding firearm customization, contact U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.