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Virginia Gun Control Laws: General Assembly Has Blocked Most New Proposals Restricting Where Guns May Be Carried

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Amid the renewed gun control debate since the December shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, the General Assembly has blocked most new proposals to restrict where Virginians may carry guns.

But legislators are still considering a number of measures to boost security in Virginia's schools. On Friday, a House committee advanced a bill by Del. Mark L. Cole, R-Spotsylvania, to allow armed security guards in private schools. A number of bills sponsored by Democrats and Republicans to fund armed school resource officers in public elementary schools are under review by House and Senate money committees.

A measure sponsored by Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, that would allow teachers or others to be trained and carry a concealed weapon in public schools has been referred to Gov. Bob McDonnell's school-safety task force for review.

Another of Marshall's bills merits particular attention: On Friday, a House committee advanced his measure that would bar state officials from helping the federal government carry out any federal gun control measures enacted after Dec. 31, 2012.

Virginia law allows anyone who is 18 years old -- and who may legally own a firearm -- to carry it openly. Virginians who are 21 or older and who qualify may obtain permits to carry concealed weapons.

McDonnell, then Virginia's attorney general, wrote in a 2008 opinion: "A person's right to carry a firearm openly is considered universal within the commonwealth, subject to definite and limited restrictions upon certain locations and classifications of individuals."

With a few exceptions, Virginia prohibits firearms in air carrier airport terminals, courthouses, schools and churches during a worship service. Three sets of people may bring weapons into the General Assembly Building or the state Capitol -- legislators, law enforcement officers or people with concealed-carry permits. The state Senate also bars a variety of weapons in the gallery, whether or not the owner has a concealed-carry permit.

The owners of private property, including businesses, also may prohibit firearms.

In recent years, gun rights activists have won a series of victories in Virginia to expand locations where guns are permitted.

In 2010, McDonnell signed legislation allowing people with concealed-carry permits to bring concealed weapons into a restaurant that sells alcohol as long as the person with the weapon does not drink. The owner of the business still may prohibit firearms on the premises.

McDonnell also has issued a directive to allow open carrying of firearms in state parks, changing the prohibition under his predecessor, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine.

The Virginia Code bars localities from passing firearm rules that are not "expressly authorized" by state statute. That's why legislators each year go to the assembly seeking more curbs on behalf of localities.

This year, a House subcommittee spiked a bill sponsored by Del. Mamye E. BaCote, D-Hampton. It would have allowed a locality to adopt an ordinance that prohibits firearms or ammunition in libraries owned or operated by the locality.

The Senate Courts of Justice Committee defeated a bill sponsored by Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax, that would have authorized localities to adopt their own ordinances to prohibit firearms or ammunition on property owned or leased by a locality.

One section of the state code does reflect differing views about firearms in more populous areas of the state as opposed to less populous rural communities. In 13 of the state's most populous cities and counties, including Richmond and Henrico County, it is unlawful to carry in public a loaded semi-automatic center-fire rifle or pistol that is equipped with a magazine that will hold more than 20 rounds of ammunition; designed to accommodate a silencer; or equipped with a folding stock.

That code section has a number of exceptions -- for law enforcement officers, security guards, military personnel, people with concealed-carry permits, and those who lawfully are hunting or taking part in recreational shooting activities.

acain@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6645 ___

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