The State of Virginia, and indeed the rest of the country, is watching “Lobby Day,” organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) in Richmond on Monday, January 20th. Attendance is expected to be between 100,000-150,000 protesters. Historically those with a Concealed Handgun Permit could carry firearms while entering the General Assembly Pocahontas building. This is no longer the case.
State of Emergency
In early January, the rules committee banned firearms inside the Capitol building and inside the Pocahontas building. Then, on January 15th, the Governor declared a “state of emergency” under Section § 44-146.16 of the Code of Virginia. The state of emergency runs from January 17, 2020 to January 22, 2020 and declares the following areas “weapon-free zones,” which are defined as:
“…any land, real property, or improvements owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia within the area bounded by Broad Street, Ninth Street, Bank Street and Governor Street in the City of Richmond, Virginia, as well as any Commonwealth-owned parking lots for Virginia’s Department of Transportation, the Madison Building, the Monroe Building, the Patrick Henry Building, Washington Building, the Jefferson Building, and the Oliver Hill Building.”
Based on this declaration, Virginia Concealed Handgun Permit holders will be unable to carry weapons onto Capitol grounds or any other government owned property or buildings. However, you are allowed to carry a small folding knife with a blade of less than three inches in length.
Despite the fact that the Code of Virginia generally prohibits a state of emergency from affecting firearm rights, an exception is to prohibit weapons in certain areas used by the Governor, or other state actors, to “shelter people.” In response, the VCDL and Gun Owners of America (GOA) filed for an injunction in Richmond Circuit Courts to block the weapons ban, as applied to firearms associated with the state of emergency on January 16th. This injunction was denied, but has been appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court. No action has been taken yet by the Supreme Court.
The Lobby Day Rules*
(*As of January 17, 2020. Subject to change if an injunction is granted by the Supreme Court.)
If you are attending the rally and carrying a weapon lawfully, you may still carry on 9th Street, and other nearby streets, so long as you do not enter government buildings or parking lots, and do not enter the fenced area around the Capitol. Remember, concealed carry is legal only with a valid Concealed Handgun Permit. Open carry of firearms is also generally legal without a Concealed Handgun Permit, but you may not carry anything deemed an assault weapon (unless you have a valid CHP). An “assault weapon” is defined by Section § 18.2-287.4 of the Code of Virginia as a:
“…semi-automatic center-fire rifle or pistol that expels single or multiple projectiles by action of an explosion of a combustible material and is equipped at the time of the offense with a magazine that will hold more than 20 rounds of ammunition or designed by the manufacturer to accommodate a silencer or equipped with a folding stock or (b) shotgun with a magazine that will hold more than seven rounds of the longest ammunition for which it is chambered.”
If you wish to enter the fenced-in area around the Capitol (or other restricted areas) to hear the speakers or meet with your delegates, you may not carry any weapon other than a folding knife with a blade of less than three inches in length.
At Lobby Day, counter-protesters or others may intend to incite violence. If someone is potentially trying to cause a problem, DO NOT ENGAGE. It is likely a tactic to capture film footage that will be used to support an anti-gun narrative surrounding the event. In these situations, the best thing you can do is disengage and alert a police officer.
As a gun owner, you can participate in Lobby Day by peacefully showing your support of your constitutional right to bear arms. Be alert, be respectful, and be safe.
For any other questions, please call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak with your Independent Program Attorney.