Concealed Weapon Law In Virginia
What is the concealed weapon law in Virginia all about, and what are the requirements for a concealed carry permit? What does it mean to conceal a weapon anyway?
For the answer to those questions, one must start with the Virginia concealed weapon statute, which is Virginia Code Section 18.2-308. It is one of the longer criminal statutes on the books, so I will not go into every detail here, but you may read through the entire section for yourself online. Section 18.2-308 makes the following kinds of weapons unlawful for a person to carry concealed, subject to a variety of exceptions:
(i) any pistol, revolver, or other weapon designed or intended to propel a missile of any kind by action of an explosion of any combustible material; (ii) any dirk, bowie knife, switchblade knife, ballistic knife, machete, razor, slingshot, spring stick, metal knucks, or blackjack; (iii) any flailing instrument consisting of two or more rigid parts connected in such a manner as to allow them to swing freely, which may be known as a nun chahka, nun chuck, nunchaku, shuriken, or fighting chain; (iv) any disc, of whatever configuration, having at least two points or pointed blades which is designed to be thrown or propelled and which may be known as a throwing star or oriental dart; or (v) any weapon of like kind.
You may read that list and think that every kind of item could conceivably fit into these descriptions, but Virginia courts have excluded items like kitchen or steak knives and even box cutters from inclusion as a weapon.
Section 18.2-308 actually begins with the statement, “[i]f any person carries about his person….” Carrying a weapon is more than just having a dirk in your pocket, a pistol in your jacket or a shuriken in your hand; “about the person” means that the weapon does not have to be in physical contact with you to be considered to be carried by you. Cases like Pruitt v. Commonwealth, 274 Va. 382, 388 (2007) and Johnson v. Commonwealth, 2010 Va. App. LEXIS 475 (Va. Ct. App. Dec. 14, 2010) have established the standard here to be “prompt and immediate use.”
The court decisions in Pruitt and Johnson provide a helpful distinction regarding when a weapon is “about” one’s “person.” In Pruitt, the weapon was not concealed; rather, the defendant was involved in an accident, placed the weapon in a closed console, then exited the vehicle to address the situation, and the police arrived later. In Johnson, the weapon was in a console within reach of the defendant until police requested that the defendant exit the vehicle. The courts found that the defendant in Pruitt did not have a weapon “about his person,” while the defendant in Johnson did.
So what does it mean to conceal? The statute states, “[i] f any person carries about his person hidden from common observation….” (emphasis added). The statute defines this phrase as “when it is observable but is of such deceptive appearance as to disguise the weapon’s true nature.” Virginia courts also use the phrase “when it is hidden from all except those with an unusual or exceptional opportunity to view it.” See Clarke v. Commonwealth, 32 Va. App. 286, 303 (2000). In other words, if you can’t plainly see what a thing is, it is likely to be considered concealed. If you have to move something, unwrap something, or position yourself in an abnormal way just to see something, it is likely to be considered concealed.
Can a concealed carry permit help you avoid the pitfalls of the concealed weapons law? The answer is “sort of” — for handguns at least. The concealed carry permit is limited to handguns, which Section 18.2-308 defines as “any pistol or revolver or other firearm, except a machine gun, originally designed, made and intended to fire a projectile by means of an explosion of a combustible material from one or more barrels when held in one hand.” You may consider your hands an explosive projectile, but you cannot obtain a concealed carry permit for a throwing star.
There are prerequisites for obtaining a concealed handgun permit, including certification that you have competency with a handgun, for which you would complete the training course (or provide one of the alternative methods of proof found in subsection G of 18.2-308). There are also several disqualifications from obtaining a concealed handgun permit, which are listed in subsection E of 18.2-308.
Finally, there are several exceptions to the concealed weapon law, beginning with its not being applicable to a person in his or her home. Subsections B and C of 18.2-308 identify the remaining exceptions.
The larger point here is this: there is nothing easy when it comes to weapons: not their lawful use, or the laws that define their use. Not understanding the law can lead to some very serious consequences.