Photo Credit: By Andre m (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
2015 was a decent year for gun rights in Virginia. A number of bills were passed expanding the rights of Virginia gun owners and those who wish to restore their right to possess a firearm and ammunition. Here are some of the highlights:
Gun rights restoration
Two bills – HB 1666 and HB 2286, combine to allow for greater freedom in the restoration of gun rights that have previously been lost as a result of a disqualifying crime or adjudication of delinquency. HB 1666 allows nonresidents of Virginia to petition the circuit court of the county or city where they were convicted of a felony or adjudicated delinquent of a disqualifying offense, for a permit to possess/transport a firearm and/or ammunition. The new laws are of importance to those who have been convicted of a disqualifying offense in Virginia, but were required by their home state to get restoration of their gun rights in Virginia to possess and transport in their home state. Also, a person who has had their right to possess and carry ammunition stripped may file a petition to restore their right to possess ammunition.
HB 2286 allows for the recognition of restoration of gun rights from other states, so if an individual has gotten back their right to possess and transport firearms and ammunition in another state after having lost it, they can carry and possess in Virginia.
This bill lets a local law enforcement agency, as well as the Capitol and State Police, donate an unclaimed firearm in their possession to the Department of Forensic Science on its agreement. What is good for Virginia gun owners is that the length of time the locality or police agency has to keep the weapon before getting rid of it has been extended to 120 days, up from 90. A locality or agency may not destroy or donate an unclaimed firearm before 120 days after receiving it.
This is an interesting bill that highlights the huge importance of words. By adding a single word – knowingly – to subsections of VA Code Ann. § 18.2-308.1, the new law provides potentially tremendous relief for gun owners who accidently find themselves carrying their concealed handgun on school property and are facing felony charges. Prior to the new law, bringing a firearm on the property of any public, private, or religious elementary, middle, or high school, or on a part of property open to the public and used solely for school functions or activities was a crime, regardless of why it was done (intentionally, accidently, etc.) Now, however, it is only a felony if it was done knowingly!
Therefore, unknowingly carrying a firearm on school or school event property will no longer be considered a state crime. However, as a word of warning, a person who does so may still be arrested and have to prove their lack of knowledge in court.
Under subsection Q of VA Code Ann. § 18.2-308.2:2, a firearms dealer may require a person buying, renting, trading, or transferring a firearm not in the dealer’s possession to consent to a criminal history record check to make sure they are not prohibited from possessing/transporting the firearm. This is a change from existing law which only required a background check if the dealer was selling a firearm in their possession.
In a nice gesture, SB 848 established the “Commonwealth’s Twenty” marksmanship award, which recognizes the top 20 competitors in each rifle and pistol Excellence-in-Competition matches that take place at the annual Virginia State Championships.
As you can see, this legislative session resulted in a number of bills that expanded the rights of Virginia gun owners. If you have any questions about how these changes in the law may affect you, call us and one of our Independent Program Attorneys will be happy to point you in the right direction.