VA Attorney General rules on guns in church

First, for my non-Virginia readers, a little background. Carrying a gun in church, concealed or not, is not illegal per se – but it is governed by a very vague statute (Code of Va. § 18.2-283) which essentially leaves prosecution open to the prejudices of any officer that is called for or witnesses it. That statute reads:

If any person carry any gun, pistol, bowie knife, dagger or other dangerous weapon, without good and sufficient reason, to a place of worship while a meeting for religious purposes is being held at such place he shall be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.

The key to carrying in church being legal rests on one phrase, “good and sufficient reason”. What constitutes “good and sufficient reason” is not specifically defined anywhere in Virginia law.

My take has always been (keeping in mind that I Am Not A Lawyer) that the key phrase essentially makes the statute unconstitutionally vague. What is a good and sufficient reason for one person may not be good and sufficient reason for another. For example, imagine if the interpretation of that phrase were up to Joan Petersen. No reason at all, including God, Buddha, Ganesha, and Cthulu, all appearing together in front of her and explaining that I must take my gun to church or the human race will face a thousand years of untold pain and suffering, would be “good and sufficient reason”. After all, if there’s a gun in church, there might be a Gun Death(tm), and that is absolutely unacceptable to her – a thousand years of untold pain and suffering for the entire human race would be preferable!

Even if it’s not unconstitutional due to vagueness, there is still that lack of definition to overcome. What is “good and sufficient reason”? My second opinion (again, IANAL) is that – in the absence of an actual definition – “any lawful purpose” is “good and sufficient reason”.

Fortunately, we now have at least an official Attorney General’s Opinion (PDF warning!) stating that carrying for self defense satisfies the “good and sufficient reason” requirement. From Phillip Van Cleave in a VCDL email:

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has formally ruled that self-defense is considered “good and sufficient reason” for the lawful carry of handguns into a church during a service!  (Good and sufficient reason isn’t needed at other times.)  The ruling also stated that churches, as private property, can ban or restrict such carry (which is consistent with Virginia law and would make for a trespass charge if violated).


NOTE:  This is an Attorney General’s opinion.  It carries a lot of weight, but is not law and is NOT a GUARANTEE that a judge will agree.  In PRACTICE, however, this should pretty much settle the matter, especially if the General Assembly doesn’t overturn it with a change to the law next year (there is about a zero chance of that happening).

While not completely settled law, this is a great boon that will hamper any anti-gun police officer or Commonwealth’s Attorney who tries to take advantage of the law’s vagueness. It would be preferable for the law to be repealed completely, but this is a step forward. It’s also worth noting that Cuccinelli’s opinion quotes from the Heller decision, rather than resting only on Virginia’s Constitution and laws. Virginia’s churches are no longer “maybe, maybe not” victim disarmament gun free zones under the law – it is now up to each individual church to make that decision.

Which is just as it should be.


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1 Comment

  1. New move to ban guns in Virginia churches « Curses! Foiled Again!

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