The Definitive Guide to Virginia’s Air Gun Laws

I use a WordPress plugin that allows me to monitor the number of visitors who have read each article and what website they came from.  Additionally, if they found the article by using a search engine, it shows me the search terms they used.

I use this information to gauge what topics my readers might be interested in and on that note, hardly a day goes by that the list of search terms doesn’t include multiple entries for such topics as Virginia BB gun laws, Virginia air gun laws, Virginia Airsoft laws, or Virginia paintball laws.

Apparently there is a lot of interest in this area of law from parents, children, and adult air rifle enthusiasts.  So I thought that it would be a good idea to put together a definitive guide to the laws governing air guns in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Let’s Start With a Definition …  What Are “Air Guns?”

That is a good question.  What kinds of firearms are encompassed by the term “air guns?”  In fact, the name is a bit misleading since the term covers not only those firearms that are powered by compressed air or CO2 but also those that are spring driven.  This includes what are commonly referred to as BB guns, air rifles, paintball guns, and Airsoft guns.

The term also includes both handguns and rifles and encompasses firearms that shoot traditional BBs, lead pellets, Airsoft pellets, and paintballs.

Purchase and Possession Under Federal Law

Now that we know what we are talking about, let’s turn to the legal requirements to purchase air guns.

Generally, when we are talking about the purchase of firearms, we would have both federal and state law to contend with.  So … the first issue we will investigate is whether air guns are “firearms” under the meaning of federal law.

The definition of “firearms” for purposes of both the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the Brady Bill is codified at 18 USC § 921(a)(3) which reads in part:

(a) As used in this chapter—

(3) The term “firearm” means

(A) any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive;

Since air guns are powered by either compressed gas or spring action, they do not fall under this definition.  But wait ….  any air gun which fires a projectile greater than .50 caliber (or one-half inch) could potentially fall under the “destructive device” language in 18 USC § 921(a)(4):

(4) The term “destructive device” means—

(B) any type of weapon (other than a shotgun or a shotgun shell which the Attorney General finds is generally recognized as particularly suitable for sporting purposes) by whatever name known which will, or which may be readily converted to, expel a projectile by the action of an explosive or other propellant, and which has any barrel with a bore of more than one-half inch in diameter;

Fortunately for air gun owners, the BATFE has not pursued this option in the case of air guns … yet.  To make these determinations, the BATFE uses the discretionary language from the same statute which reads:

The term “destructive device” shall not include any device which is neither designed nor redesigned for use as a weapon; any device, although originally designed for use as a weapon, which is redesigned for use as a signaling, pyrotechnic, line throwing, safety, or similar device; surplus ordnance sold, loaned, or given by the Secretary of the Army pursuant to the provisions of section 4684 (2), 4685, or 4686 of title 10; or any other device which the Attorney General finds is not likely to be used as a weapon, is an antique, or is a rifle which the owner intends to use solely for sporting, recreational or cultural purposes.

Paintball gun owners should take particular note of this potential future problem since paintball guns are the only member of the air gun family which traditionally shoot a projectile that is over .50 caliber.  The standard paintball is .68 caliber whereas the copper BBs and lead pellets we all are familiar with from our childhood are only .177 caliber and the increasingly popular Airsoft BBs are generally 6 mm which equates to approximately .236 caliber.

But as of the moment, it appears that air guns are not federally regulated at all in regards to purchase and simple possession.  In fact, the BATFE agrees with my assessment.  Under federal law, even convicted felons may possess air guns.

But wait … perhaps there are state law provisions we need to be aware of …

Purchase and Possession Under State Law

Turning to state law, what does the Code of Virginia have to say about whether air guns are considered “firearms” for purposes of statutory application?  Unfortunately, there is not a definitional statute to which we may turn for general application.  However, several statutes do provide definitions applicable only to their own code section.

For example, in § 18.2-282, they have both a definition of firearm and make a clear distinction between a “firearm” and an “air or gas operated weapon.”

A. It shall be unlawful for any person to point, hold or brandish any firearm or any air or gas operated weapon or any object similar in appearance, whether capable of being fired or not, in such manner as to reasonably induce fear in the mind of another or hold a firearm or any air or gas operated weapon in a public place in such a manner as to reasonably induce fear in the mind of another of being shot or injured.

C. For purposes of this section, the word “firearm” means any weapon that will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel single or multiple projectiles by the action of an explosion of a combustible material.

In a similar fashion, § 22.1-277.07 also includes “pneumatic guns” as a distinct class of object separate from “firearms” and this pattern seems to repeat throughout the Code of Virginia.  In both § 18.2-287.01 which deals with firearms in air-carrier airport terminal buildings and § 18.2-283.1 which deals with firearms in courthouses, the Legislature makes a distinction between “guns” and any “other weapon designed or intended to propel a missile or projectile of any kind.”

These are all clues to the Legislature’s intent and seem to imply that the general definition of a firearm under Virginia law is understood to closely mimic the federal definition in requiring some form of combustion.  It appears that where the Legislature intended for air guns to be included in a statute, they are either expressly included or the definition of “firearm” in the code section excludes a combustion requirement.

But what I think doesn’t really matter.  It is the court’s interpretation of the statutes that will govern.  So … do the Virginia courts agree with this assessment?  Why yes they do. In a series of cases that began in 1993, the question of whether or not a BB gun is a firearm for purposes of simple possession statutes has been definitively answered.

In 1993, the court said in Jones v. Commonwealth (429 S.E.2d 615) that:

Code § 18.2-308.2 prohibits a felon from possessing a device that has the actual capacity to do serious harm because of its ability to expel a projectile by the power of an explosion, and it is not concerned with the use or display of a device that may [merely] have the appearance of a firearm.

This holding was followed in 1998 in Gregory v. Commonwealth (504 S.E.2d 886) and again in 2000 in Williams v. Commonwealth (537 S.E.2d 21).

The currently controlling case is from 2001.  In Armstrong v. Commonwealth (549 S.E.2d 641) the court made it very clear:

[T]here is no public policy or legislative intent to find a felon who possesses a BB gun, a squirt gun or a plastic toy gun to be in possession of a firearm. That is all the Jones decision held. When the General Assembly used the term “firearm” in Code § 18.2-308.2, it meant a “firearm” is a firearm under that statute if it was made to shoot bullets, not BBs or tap water.

I should note at this point that the courts have made one broad exception to this interpretive rule and that is in a case where an air gun is used to facilitate a crime of violence where victim perception is a factor.  In any case where a “firearm” is being used in such a crime, the Virginia courts have adopted a broader definition that does include air guns.  This rationale was explained in Witeiner v. Commonwealth (656 S.E.2d 418, 51):

[A]s a practical matter, a crime victim ‘cannot be required to distinguish between a loaded pistol and a spring gun when it is brandished during the commission of a felony.’

The statutes to which this broader interpretation extend include § 18.2-53.1 (Use or display of firearm in committing felony) and § 18.2-51 (Shooting, stabbing, etc., with intent to maim, kill, etc.).

But so far as mere purchase, possession, or lawful-use is concerned, the Virginia courts agree with my assessment that the term “firearm” does not include air guns and only those provisions which expressly apply to air guns will affect the legality of their use.

So let’s turn to Virginia’s other purchase and possession provisions to see if any of them expressly apply to air guns.

§ 18.2-308.2:2 is the primary statute governing when background checks are required for the purchase and transfer of firearms.  And under this code section, we see a definition of “firearm” that that closely matches the definition from the Jones case:

“Firearm” means any handgun, shotgun, or rifle that will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel single or multiple projectiles by action of an explosion of a combustible material.

The fact that this section does not reach air guns is the reason that you may buy air guns in retail stores without a background check.  But could there be other prohibitions on purchase that we need to look at even though there are no background checks?  Let’s keep looking.

§ 18.2-308.1:1 governs purchase, possession, and transportation of firearms by anyone who has been acquitted of a crime by reason of insanity.  However, its prohibition only applies to “any firearm.”  Air guns are not covered under this statute.

§ 18.2-308.1:2 governs purchase, possession, and transportation of firearms by anyone who has been adjudicated legally incompetent or mentally incapacitated.  And once again, the prohibition applies only to “any firearm.”

§ 18.2-308.1:3 governs purchase, possession, and transportation of firearms by anyone who has been involuntarily admitted or ordered to outpatient mental-health treatment.  The pattern continues here with the prohibition only applying to “a firearm.”

§ 18.2-308.1:4 governs purchase and transportation of firearms by anyone subject to a protective order, and only during the period that the order is in effect.  And while it is intellectually interesting to note that mere possession is not disturbed by a protective order, for our purposes here it matters little since it too only applies its prohibition to “any firearm” and does not include air guns.

§ 18.2-308.1:5 governs purchase and transportation of handguns by anyone convicted of certain drug offenses within the preceding 36 month period.  Like the code section governing protective orders, this prohibition does not reach to mere possession, and in fact only applies to an even more limited class of weapons (handguns).

What about legal and illegal aliens?  With the recent Dream Order by President Obama, there has been an interesting discussion about whether the new residents thusly created have Second Amendment rights.  But until such time as the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals or the United States Supreme Court rules on such a question, Virginia code section § 18.2-308.2:01 will answer the question as far as Virginia is concerned.  And while I need not go into detail, the prohibitions here apply only to “assault firearms” and “any firearm” in turn.  Air guns are not prohibited to non-U.S. citizens.

In short, it appears that there are no statutory bars to the lawful purchase or possession of air guns in Virginia.  And it is good that Virginia has not attempted such controls because it turns out that states are preempted by federal law from banning the sale of air guns, at least to adults.    15 USC § 5001(g)(ii) states that:

(g) Preemption of State or local laws or ordinances; exceptions

…  no State shall—

(ii) prohibit the sale (other than prohibiting the sale to minors) of traditional B–B, paint ball, or pellet-firing air guns that expel a projectile through the force of air pressure.

This brings up a good point.  Localities may, under both federal and state law, impose restrictions on the sale of air guns to minors but may not impose such restrictions on adults.

Safe and secure in our ability to purchase and possess air guns, we will now move on to the issue of transportation.

Transportation

Let us start this section by reiterating that Virginia is an open carry state.  What does this mean?  It means that any person who is not otherwise prohibited by law from possessing a firearm may openly bear such firearm as she goes about her business.  This applies equally to handguns and long-guns.

Where bearing arms enters the realm of potential criminal liability is when the firearm is concealed.  The prohibition against carrying a concealed weapon is codified at § 18.2-308 which generally prohibits carrying any of the following concealed:

(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 as those enumerated in this subsection

The clarifying text “by action of an explosion of any combustible material” was added in 2001 by House Bill H2130.  According to Delegate McClure, the bill sponsor, this change was made specifically to clarify “that in order to be a weapon the propulsion of the missle [sic] must be by action of an explosion of combustible material.”

And this seems to have largely resolved the issue in favor of the interpretation that one cannot be prosecuted for carrying an air gun concealed when one is otherwise engaging in lawful activity.

So now that we know we can transport our air guns if we are not engaging in any criminal activity, are there any specific places where air guns may not be taken?  The answer of course is “Yes.”

We will first start with K-12 schools.  § 18.2-308.1  governs possession of firearms on school property, in school buses, and on property used exclusively for school-sponsored functions.  This code section incorporates the definition of weapons from § 18.2-308 and also repeats the limiting phrase “designed or intended to expel a projectile by action of an explosion of a combustible material.”

On its face, the prohibition against weapons on school property does not appear to apply to air guns.  And this interpretation is borne out by the fact that in 2010, the Virginia Citizens Defense League defeated an attempt by Senator Marsden to add air guns to the list of prohibited weapons.  His change in Senate Bill SB 580 would have added a prohibition for “weapon[s] designed to expel a projectile at a speed of more than 250 feet per second by action of compressed air or gas, including but not limited to an airsoft gun.”

But that does not mean that students are free to bring air guns onto school property, even after hours.  While the act may not give rise to criminal liability, § 22.1-277.07 provides for a one-year expulsion for students who are proven to have:

… possessed a firearm on school property or at a school-sponsored activity as prohibited by § 18.2-308.1; to have possessed a firearm or destructive device as defined in subsection E, a firearm muffler or firearm silencer, or a pneumatic gun as defined in subsection E of § 15.2-915.4 on school property or at a school-sponsored activity.

And just because a student may ultimately prevail in a criminal matter does not mean that an ill-informed prosecutor may not press charges, forcing the student’s parents to spend money on legal defense.  A great example is a recent case in Culpepper.

And there are other places where the prohibition is clear.  The first place in the Code of Virginia where air guns appear to be legitimately prohibited is in air carrier airport terminal buildings when not checking the guns with customs or the airlines.  This prohibition comes from § 18.2-287.01 and states in part that:

It shall be unlawful for any person to possess or transport into any air carrier airport terminal in the Commonwealth any (i) gun or other weapon designed or intended to propel a missile or projectile of any kind

Air guns are also prohibited in courthouse.  This prohibition is codified in § 18.2-283.1 and features the exact same “designed or intended to propel a missile or projectile of any kind” language as the prohibition on air carrier airport terminal buildings.

So we can’t carry at schools (under threat of expulsion and a whole lot of headaches), air carrier airport terminal buildings, and courthouses.  Other than that, transportation and carry of air guns seems to be relatively non-controversial.

However, there is one final point to make concerning transportation of air guns.  Since air guns are not “firearms” under Virginia law, Virginia’s firearms preemption statute, codified at § 15.2-915 does not apply and localities may have their own ordinances on where you may or may not transport air guns that are stricter than state law.  Note to self … this is a good area for a bill in the upcoming legislative session.

Moving on … Is there anything else we should look out for as we carry our air guns across the Commonwealth?  Why yes there is.  And that leads us to our next topic.  When and where may you legally use or discharge your air gun.

Discharge

Let’s start with an important point of Virginia law.  Anyone with an air gun in their hand in a public setting runs the risk of being charged with brandishing. Governed by § 18.2-282, the crime of brandishing occurs when you:

… point, hold or brandish any firearm or any air or gas operated weapon or any object similar in appearance, whether capable of being fired or not, in such manner as to reasonably induce fear in the mind of another or hold a firearm or any air or gas operated weapon in a public place in such a manner as to reasonably induce fear in the mind of another of being shot or injured.  

While this is an “objective” standard, the possibility of a brandishing charge always exists when an air gun is being used in public.  The obvious example of this is when groups of children play with Airsoft or paintball guns in public parks.

The way to avoid potential liability under this statute is to always treat air guns with the same respect for safety you would give to real firearms.  That means you should never point them at anything that is not a target and certainly should never point them at other people (with the obvious exception of paintball guns and properly equipped opponents in appropriate settings).  You should keep them encased, slung, or holstered until ready to use and such use should only be in appropriate places.

So what places are appropriate?  Well let’s start with one of the changes to Virginia law that occurred in 2011.  Concerned that more and more localities were passing blanket bans on the discharge of air guns on private property, Senator Roscoe Reynolds introduced Senate Bill SB 757.

This change to § 15.2-915.4 allows someone on private property to be able to discharge an air gun as long as they have permission from the property owner to do so and reasonable care is taken to ensure that the projectile does not cross the bounds of the property. Any local ordinances to the contrary, which many localities have adopted, are preempted.

Other statutes, designed to govern the public discharge of actual firearms are also inapplicable.  These include § 18.2-280 (Willfully discharging firearms in public places) and § 18.2-286 (Shooting in or across road or in street).

Finally, I should note that § 15.2-915.4 does not prevent localities from passing ordinances governing discharge in public venues such as parks.  In fact, most localities have done so and you should take care when discharging any air gun outside of private property to insure that you are not violating some local ordinance.

Summary

So what have we learned?

1)  Federal law does not consider air guns to be “firearms” for purposes of federal law and even felons may purchase and possess air guns.

2)  The BATFE does not consider paintball guns to be “destructive devices” despite the fact that they propel a projectile greater than .50 caliber.

3)  Federal law preempts the ability of states to ban the sale of air guns to adults.

4)  Virginia law generally does not impose restrictions on the purchase and possession of air guns when not engaging in other unlawful activity.

5)  When you are not engaging in other unlawful activity, you are generally not subject to a charge of carrying a concealed weapon based upon an air gun.

6)  There are places that are off limits including K-12 schools, courthouses, and air carrier airport terminal buildings.

7)  Since air guns are not “firearms” under Virginia law, Virginia’s firearms preemption statute does not apply and localities may have their own ordinances on where you may or may not transport air guns.

8)  While Virginia prevents localities from regulating discharge of air guns on private property under most circumstances, localities may, and often do, ban air guns in parks and other public venues.

9)  Get to know your local ordinances.  Because federal and state law are generally silent on the issues surrounding air guns and preemption does not apply except in sale and discharge on private property, local ordinances will largely govern the field.

Going Forward

I will attempt to keep this guide up-to-date as there are federal or state changes that affect the rights of air gun owners in Virginia.

If you are aware of any issues I have failed to address or think that I may be incorrect on a point of law, then feel free to leave a comment along with a cite to authority and I will incorporate the change or addition into the guide.

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing contained herein should be construed as legal advice nor does it give rise to an attorney-client relationship.  For legal advice, you should contact a member of your state’s Bar association.

© 2012, John Pierce. All rights reserved.


About John Pierce

Monachus Lex is written by Virginia attorney John Pierce. John is a life-long gun rights advocate, an NRA certified instructor and co-founder of the nationwide gun rights group OpenCarry.org.

He has an undergraduate degree in Computer Information Systems, an MBA from George Mason University and is a 2012 Honors Graduate of Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, MN.

Professionally, John is a member of the American Bar Association Second Amendment Civil Rights Litigation Subcommittee and his writings have been published by the ABA Civil Rights Litigation Committee and the ABA Minority Trial Lawyer Committee.

In addition, his open carry advocacy has been featured on Nightline and The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.
This entry was posted in Air Guns, Airsoft, BB Guns, Brandishing Statutes, Felons, Local Ordinances, Myths & Misconceptions, Paintball, Popular Culture, Public Parks, State Laws, Virginia. Bookmark the permalink.

69 Responses to The Definitive Guide to Virginia’s Air Gun Laws

  1. For me, your article is timely and needed. I purchased a Crossman pellet pistol from Amazon which is scheduled to arrive next week. I was going to do a search for lawful places in which to shoot this pistol when I came upon this article. I am going to save the article for reviewing but I want you to know how much I apprecitate it now.

    Respectfully,
    Gene Van Dyke

    • John Pierce says:

      Gene,

      I am glad you found it useful. If you have any specific questions after reading it, just post them here and I will be glad to try and answer them. Enjoy the new Crossman! :)

      John

    • That One Guy says:

      A cross man? Really? You couldn’t have gone better? I don’t why you decided to buy a cross man, as they are known for their poor, plastic quality, which is not even Polymer or ABS. You should’ve gone with a G$G or KWA.

      • Chris says:

        Crosman air rifles have come along way since I was a kid. 20 years ago the quality was on the poor side in comparison to today’s pneumatic hunting rifles. The Benjamin Marauder .25 is a highly accurate hunting air rifle with velocities over 800 fps. capable of taken wild boar. I would put the .25 Marauder against any air rifle on the market! Crosman also has many other Quality air rifles and pistols. “That One Guy” has no clue concerning crosman’s dedication to Quality and Performance!!

  2. James says:

    Thanks for the great article. I just got my son his first ‘Red Ryder’ BB gun. It’s nice having all of this information in one spot. I’ve bookmarked this article for future reference. Thanks a lot!

  3. Noah says:

    i cant really understand this so i am 13 can i own a air gun that is a .177 caliber i live in henrico county in virginia
    Thank’s…

    • John Pierce says:

      Noah,

      Subject to your parent’s approval and oversight, you may own a .177 caliber air gun in Henrico. Treat it with respect and follow all the safety rules and that air gun will be the start of a lifelong hobby.

      John

  4. Paul says:

    Thank you so much for this article. My wife and I are residents of Woodbridge, VA and we are first time owners of airguns. We recently joined the NRA. We don’t own any firearms. We’re into precision target shooting. This article is so informative and helpful. We’re going to be doing our airgun activity at the NRA Firing Range in Fairfax, VA

  5. Pingback: Virginia vs the Austin Magic Pistol | Monachus Lex

  6. Allen says:

    john,
    I just had an incident with a neighbor child, eight years old using a bb gun unsupervised shooting the kids playing on my swing set. I live in fairfax county am an NRA member and north american hunt club member. I’m appalled at these parents and intend yo write a letter to them. Thanks for the article, any advice?

    • John Pierce says:

      Allen,

      That behavior is totally unacceptable both on the part of the parents for not supervising the child and on the part of the child for shooting at another person. Air guns, in all their flavors, are great tools to teach children gun safety but they are capable of causing injury (“You’ll shoot your eye out kid.”)

      While the newly passed Virginia ordinance preempts discharge of air guns on private property where reasonable care has been taken to prevent the bb/pellet/paintball from leaving the property, that is not the case here and I am sure that Fairfax has an ordinance that has been violated.

      If it were me, I would make it clear to the parents that you are aware of this but do not want to push the issue legally so long as the child learns safe airgun handling from the incident. Let them know how serious their liability could have been if anyone had been hurt. :(

      Keep us informed and good luck!

      John

  7. Patty Love says:

    WOW! Thank you for this clearly written explicate guide. It could not have been more timely for me as I just purchased an air gun for the purpose practicing my shooting skills at home. Although I live on an acre of land with natural berms aIl around, I have purchased a target box to contain my bbs. May I suggest to your readers that these boxes go a long way toward quelling the fears of nervous neighbors.
    Thanks for all your research.

  8. Gary Kemp says:

    Can you believe it. My wife and I are being charged with a Class 4 felony child neglect because I had an airsoft pistol and a .177 pellet rifle in my room. And were being charged as it waqs a danger to my 17 year old daughter as she could walk in the room at any time and gain access to them. When did we start living in stupid ville? My kids never touched them without supervision. This is ridiculous. Yet they havn’t said a word about my 12 year old son who is usually the one who uses them under my supervision.

  9. Harrison says:

    What is the law on shooting my .177 cal in my backyard? I live in Henrico. I want to shoot squirrels but im not sure if i can or not. Thanks!

    • John Pierce says:

      Harrison,

      The 2011 change to § 15.2-915.4 allows someone on private property to be able to discharge an air gun as long as they have permission from the property owner to do so and reasonable care is taken to ensure that the projectile does not cross the bounds of the property. Any local ordinances to the contrary, which many localities have adopted, are preempted.

      However, squirrels are a game animal in Virginia and specifically, fox squirrels are limited in the areas where they may be taken.

      So … if you take appropriate and reasonable precautions to insure that the projectile does not leave your property, then you will be ok from a discharge perspective. However, you will need to insure that the game laws allow you to take the particular squirrels you want to shoot.

      John

  10. Adam Myers says:

    I’ve been asking around as to the legality of remozing the orange tip from an airsoft gun. I’m an avid airsoft player. as of right now i leave the tip on but its really an eye sore. Do you know if i can legally remove it? I live in Prince William county. I’ve gotten comflicting answers. some say i can because the tip is only for the sale and wholesale transportation and some say it is require at all times to have.

  11. Adam Myers says:

    Yes. Prince William county, Virginia. sorry for not clarifying.

  12. Matt Eaton says:

    i have a m4-177 bb/pellet rifle and no fancs in Bristol,VA.

  13. Grif says:

    Thank you for this information. I live in Spotsylvania County, Virginia where my son and many in the neighborhood have airsoft guns. I’m concerned about teaching my son to respect and follow the laws but still have fun- but there seems to be a lot of gray area. More and more kids are getting these air soft guns and are using them like they would a nerf gun- in the street, around the houses…. I’m not comfortable letting my son do this. I want him to learn to respect and enjoy his new-found hobby but want to stay within the laws and safety. We live in a subdivision where lots are 1/3 to 1/2 acres at the most. That’s not enough room for an airsoft gun to me! Thanks for the information. This has been very helpful!

    • John Pierce says:

      I am glad you found the information helpful and I appreciate the fact that you are both encouraging the shooting sports in your son while making sure he understands the law!

      Happy holidays!

      John

  14. Steve says:

    John,

    Just wanted to say thanks for compiling this information for us! I am new to airsoft and the rules and regulations that govern their use specifically. Being a firearms enthusiast, I am, however, very familiar with Virginia’s state and our federal laws regarding firearms.

    I bought an airsoft rifle to teach my 10 year old nephew firearm safety. His parents aren’t yet comfortable with him going to the range with real firearms, yet. They decided that airsoft would be acceptable.

    He is so determined to go out shooting a “real” gun that he hyper focuses on making sure that he observes each safety lesson that he has been presented with. I am very proud of him. Because he lives 8 hours away, I only get to see him every few months, but typically stays for a week or more. Last visit, he was eager to show his mom the airgun. I told his mom beforehand that I was going to test him to see what he remembered from three months earlier. With the battery removed, I deliberately set the gun on the floor with the safety off and told him that he could show his mom what he learned. He went for the gun and stopped. He looked at me and said, “Uncle Steve, you have the safety off.” There was a group of people (Christmas get together), plenty of distraction and he was excited to show off to his mom. I was thrilled and he got lots of high fives!

    Soon, I hope to have permission to take him out to shoot a real rifle! Just wanted to share.

    Thanks again,
    Steve

  15. RONALD BODDY says:

    Very helpful information. I have a number of air rifles and pistols and you answered all of my questions but one.
    Many of the more expensive target style air guns are manufactured with a “shroud” around the barrel. This “shroud” is in essence a form of silencer or supressor. We all know that these devices are very carefully controlled by the BATF when used with “firearms” but I cannot find any info relating to their use with air guns. I have contacted a couple of the air gun manufactures and they explain that as long as the “shroud” is a physical part of the gun as manufactured and cannot be removed without destroying the “shroud” it is legal. This sounds good but I am reluctant to accept this without some more authoritative answer.

    • John Pierce says:

      That is the correct answer. As long as the suppressor is an integral part of the barrel and not readily removable or convertible to use on an actual ‘firearm’, then it is perfectly legal, at least from a federal law perspective. There may be individual state issues especially in places like New York but I am not aware of any specifically.

      • David R says:

        Thanks for the explanation, but I am not sure (at minimum, in my mind; maybe others are unsure as well) that the integral part at the end of the barrel needs to be that way from the manufacturer (factory or gunsmith) or can be integrated after manufacture, perhaps by a gunsmith. I have a common affordable but accurate air pistol that has what I consider a sharp report and to which I’d like to have integrated some sort of baffle but wonder what form of integrating (brazing?) will not run afoul of the law(s). I reside in Virginia. Thank you.

  16. B. Waller says:

    Thanks for the detailed information!

    I do have a question. My 5 year old son was shot near his eye (about .25 inches from his eyeball) with an airsoft. I want to do something about this as no child should be put in that situation. The sheriff said I could charge the shooter with assault and that was about it. Instead, I went to the house and had a discussion with the parents. All good things came out of it. However, the neighborhood children still shoot airsoft guns in the community play areas. I am worried about the safety of our neighborhood children.

    Do you have any suggestions on how to go about this? We are a gun owning family and want to protect the 2nd Ammendment rights of citizens…but I think there needs to be more supervision of the 10-14 year olds shooting guns in the community areas where other children play. Thanks for your help!

    • John Pierce says:

      First, I am glad your son is ok!

      I suspect that you have probably addressed the issue in one of the most effective manners already, namely speaking to the offending child’s parents.

      Going forward, perhaps you could work with other parents to set aside part of the community play area as an unofficial “airsoft zone.” That would also allow you to encourage those children using the airsoft guns to wear eye protection themselves.

      Just a few thoughts.

  17. Evan says:

    Hello, I had a question regarding the orange tips on the barrels of airsoft guns. I know this question was already posed earlier though I don’t believe it was ever resolved. Basically I was wondering whether it is illegal to remove or paint over the high visibility orange tip. I’ve tried to look into it and I’ve found conflicting answers. From what I gather is that it is dependent upon the local government. I’m from Fairfax County, Virginia and I tried to look up the laws regarding this subject however all I could find were the firearm laws and there was no mention of it there. Basically, is it illegal to remove or paint over the orange tips on an airsoft gun or not? If it is, what are the consequences?

    Thanks.

    • KJ says:

      Hey fairfax county police say if it comes with an orange tip you have to leave it on. Buy one with out an orange tip. u can color it but it can never leave your property after or my trick is orange tape so its removable. . Im from fairfax and i was division 3 pro paintballer so in my trunk i kept everything nice and neat always but every once and a while if air soft gun in the trunk doesn’t have orange tip they do have the right to take it away and all they have the right to say is they had a suspicion you would not use it in the proper way. If they decide to take it don’t argue with them let it go trust me. There is no need to cause problems with fairfax PD. Always be respectful because your freedom is in their hands. NO OPEN CARRY IN FAIRFAX on the virginia state police website has a list of counties that ban open carry real or not. any more info e-mail me I know a lot on these topics….. I know which Airsofts are the best which C02 guns to get that are accurate and always reliable for self defense from rabid foxes to deer eating gardens in the neighborhoods. PS as you pull the trigger of an airsoft gun you are responsible for where it goes and the damage it can cause. please have fun and shoot responsibly so you don’t ruin it for the rest of your fellow Air Men. I choose bb gun over real gun any day. in self defense i would never never plan on killing anyone thus with a bb gun Co2 600fps is good enough to scare off any one hurts like hell but in the end your safe and your attacker will learn a lesson (my favorite is aim for the butt cheek) haha it will leave a nice reminder every time they sit down and they will think twice about attacking anyone. main rule everyone lives be safe fellow shooters and remember if you open carry in places that you can, dress nice not like a hoodlum. maintain class and respect smile to people and all the above.

  18. David R says:

    Thank you for your articles which I will value as reference resources. I am grateful for the thoroughness you provide in one site — saves much time.

    Do you practice law in Virginia?

  19. Justice Silvern says:

    Mr. Pierce,
    Thank you so much for all the compiled research. You have the most information, by far; on VA Airworthiness laws and regs.
    I will start by telling you that I am a recent Vet of 10 years in the U.S. Marine Corps and a current resident of Roanoke, VA. So, as you can imagine, I am an avid lover of all things that go “BANG”.
    Because of an unfortunate form of PTSD, I became a felon 8 years ago (painkiller addiction) and as you know: no longer able to own a “Firearm”. I researched the VA Airsoft laws and found your page. Before I bought my first Airsoft gun…..I wanted to make sure I could own them. I have bought quite a few since and most of them are complete 1/1 scale with looks and weight. I really only buy them for nostalgic reasons (most I carried as an infantry Marine) and I have taught my daughter complete gun safety. She wants to be a Police Officer when she gets older. I do leave the orange tips on them because like the two others above my comment, I’m not sure of the regs on this. Most of what I have researched, pertains to just the sale and transportation of airsoft guns. Is it required to leave them on?
    Thank you again for the work put into this very informative page.

    -God bless
    Justice Silvern

  20. Ryan says:

    I would also like to thank you for posting this. As a combat veteran and a concealed weapons license holder, I recently purchased a pellet rifle for target practice in my yard. I wasn’t actually sure what the laws were… I figured with all the bad press around guns recently, I might get arrested and such. Thank you!!

  21. Jordan says:

    Hello, I live in Alexandria, Virginia and my mom purchased all of us a Gamo .177 caliber pellet rifle from airgundepot.com. Technically is her gun but she doesn’t use it much. She is home when I or anyone else shoots it usually. Our backyard is fairly big and it is slanted on a hill. I shoot it making sure if i miss up, down, or sideways, all it will hit is dirt. Obviously we will never aim anywhere near neighbors houses as that is just stupid and possibly illegal. We purchase plinking targets and shoot those and stuff such a cans and water balloons and stuff like that. I just want to confirm the law for where we live. Is it illegal or unlawful for a person under 18 to shoot (even if it is safe) alone? Thanks a lot. Also the article was great.

    • John Pierce says:

      Jordan,

      I have to start by giving my standard disclaimer. I have only a limited set of data to work from here and am providing an answer that is generalized and intended for educational purposes only. This is not intended as legal advice nor does it give rise to an attorney client relationship.

      With that out of the way, I should also note that my analysis below assumes that you are observing all of the firearms safety rules and taking proper care to insure that a projectile does not leave your property.

      Having said all of that, since you are discharging the firearm on private property with the permission of the property owner (who also happens to be the owner of the pellet rifle), I believe your actions should be lawful SO LONG AS your mother was with you and in constructive possession of the airgun.

      The reason that I believe your mother needs to be present and in constructive possession is because of Alexandria ordinance 13-2-72 which reads as follows?:

      It shall be unlawful for any person to sell, lend, rent or otherwise transfer an air gun or projectiles therefor to any person whom he knows or has reasonable cause to-believe is under 18 years of age. (Code 1963, Sec. 41-21)

      It is the ‘lend’ and ‘otherwise transfer’ provisions which give me concern. I believe that a prosecutor could make the argument that this provision (which addresses age rather than general discharge) does not run afoul of state preemption and therefore is still valid.

      I hope this helps.

      John

  22. Mike Bair says:

    John, thank you very much for taking the time to assemble all of this info!

    I have a few air rifles and pistols with my own private (back yard) target range with a 20′-30′-50′-75′ and 115′ targets. My closer targets have a dirt bank backstop and the 115′ target has a lumber backstop. I also have a 50′ archery target.

    My kids are 7,8 and 9 and all enjoy target shooting especially my daughter. All of my children are very well versed in firearm safety, handling and knowledge of “what to do if” and they all 3 passed their NRA range safety test and have their NRA minor passes as we target shoot rimfire rifles to have some great family fun time.

    My question is do you know what the law is regarding unlocked air or spring bb/pellet rifles (loaded or unloaded) in your place of residence? Particularly residences with minors.

    • John Pierce says:

      Mike,

      You didn’t specifically state that you are Virginia residents but I will assume so since this is a post about Virginia’s air gun laws. :)

      There is a statute which immediately comes to mind.

      § 18.2-56.2. Allowing access to firearms by children; penalty.
      —————————————
      A. It shall be unlawful for any person to recklessly leave a loaded, unsecured firearm in such a manner as to endanger the life or limb of any child under the age of fourteen. Any person violating the provisions of this subsection shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.

      B. It shall be unlawful for any person knowingly to authorize a child under the age of twelve to use a firearm except when the child is under the supervision of an adult. Any person violating this subsection shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. For purposes of this subsection, “adult” shall mean a parent, guardian, person standing in loco parentis to the child or a person twenty-one years or over who has the permission of the parent, guardian, or person standing in loco parentis to supervise the child in the use of a firearm.
      —————————————-

      Now … As I noted in the article, Virginia generally does not consider an air gun to be a ‘firearm’ for purposes of MOST statutes and I believe the same is true of this statute although we do not have a case on point to verify that conclusion.

      Therefore, I do not believe there is any statute specifically prohibiting having unlocked air guns in a home with minor children although if they are loaded that does go against one of the basic tenets of gun safety.

      In addition, if something were to happen with one of the air guns while the children were home alone, I believe a prosecutor would be likely be able to secure a prosecution under § 18.2-371.1(A) (Child abuse/neglect). The courts have held a conviction under this statue valid if the parent has or should have had “awareness of the likely danger” inherent in their actions.

      Bottom line … I personally keep my 9 year old’s air gun locked in the gun cabinet when we are not shooting and I would recommend that all parents do the same.

  23. scott rogers says:

    Do you think the word “firearm” belongs in these students’ school file?

    http://touch.wavy.com/20000/97591519

  24. scott rogers says:

    Given the school has changed the language in the complaint or action, do you have any comment on this story? It seems to me that at sometime in the future, the language in the students’ file could be judged using one or more standards (ie; federal, state, municipal). Also, the issue of “permission”, or lack thereof, intrigues me.

  25. ROBERT TRAXLER says:

    Back in the early late 80′s and early 90′s I challenged Fairfax County to obtain a CWP and after going to the appellate court I was granted the permit. Additonally, Robert Horan, District Attorney for the county was really livid about my obtaining it but I did prevail after two hours of being on the stand answering his questions and subsequently being denied. As I stated earlier, the appellate court reversed the decision by Fairfax County and issued me the permit at once. Fortunately, my case made it easier for others and therefore, now the state shall issue the permit instead of may issue….was very proud to be a part of that team with my attorney….So glad that thousands of people have taken the liberty and exercised the procedures in validating the privilege of receiving the CWP.

    I now reside in Arlington County and wondered if my son can discharge a pellet weapon assuming that the backgrop is all set up appropriately or whether its still not acceptable in Arlington County to do so? I know that the authorities do not particularly care for my carrying and for example, obtaining fuel for my vehicle without my coat on as they always respond with at least 5 police cars and request information such as license and registration even though Virginia is a state of open carry. In any event, I do not want a pellet firearm to be the reason for my losing the state CWP until I am absolutely clear as to what the limitations are.

    Thank you for your continued work to the community as it is very much appreciated.
    Bob

    • John Pierce says:

      Bob,

      § 15.2-915.4 allows someone on private property to be able to discharge an air gun as long as they have permission from the property owner to do so and reasonable care is taken to ensure that the projectile does not cross the bounds of the property. Any local ordinances to the contrary, which many localities have adopted, are preempted.

      So … Arlington County cannot prohibit the discharge of air guns so long as you take reasonable care in the construction of the backstop.

      If you encounter any harassment, please let us know.

      John

  26. Damien says:

    Thanks for info it cleared up and answered all the questions I had concerning BB guns and being a felon.i recently purchased a Bbgun from a friend but wasn’t sure if I could lawfully possesse it.unfortunatlly I live in a crime stricken neighborhood an got the Bbgun to scare off any potential burgers(no other reasons I hate guns) but thanks for the info anyhow it was what I needed to reinsure my girlfriend that all was well and I wasn’t putting myself in harms way of the law

  27. George Scott says:

    Thank you for the article, it has been helpful. Have you written anything on muzzle loaders and felons? Can a felon purchase a muzzle loader for hunting?

  28. Timothe Viands says:

    i got charged with “discharging a firearm” after shooting a air propelled bb gun in my backyard. I left my house a little after shooting it a bit and i quickly got pulled over by the police for no reason. They told me that they pulled me over because they got a phone call and the person described my car to the police. Is there anything i can do to get out of this because from what im reading, this charge is ridiculous because i was on my property and i had no intent to harm or to cause a felony.

    Any responses are greatly appreciated

  29. Jason says:

    John-
    Very useful information and I greatly appreciate the consolidated approach. I was wondering if you could provide a little enlightenment regarding § 15.2-915.4 that states “…the shooting of pneumatic guns in any areas of the locality that are in the opinion of the governing body so heavily populated as to make such conduct dangerous to the inhabitants thereof, …” Who is the “governing body” and what is then defined as or considered “heavily populated”?

    • John Pierce says:

      The ‘governing body’ is the local government having jurisdiction over the location. Generally we are talking city council or county board of supervisors. As for ‘heavily populated’, that is a judgment value that is left up to the governing body and the courts will defer to their judgment unless their designation is clearly arbitrary and capricious.

  30. KJ says:

    So after reading all these articles, the police basically decided your fate even if they are wrongfully accusing you of doing something. It’s as if they interpret the law in there own way and make judgments on personal interpretations of the law. As always they are the authority who would risk their lives for you and I. Therefor deserve respect. Responding with “yes sir” or “no sir.” I personally have had 5 C02 bb guns taken from my possession just because the officers felt like it. I even over heard a couple say can’t wait to try it out at home later. The Law must be more concrete and straight to the point. The Law has to much gray area for our rights to be manipulated on the spot by police who are people just like us. If i had been irresponsible with my bb guns then they are right to take them away but just the fact that i have them is not enough for them to confiscate. In a way it could be called theft but who will stop them? We the civilians have no power to protect ourself from police because who regulates them out on the road. The government should establish a police for the police who keep them in check and police should go threw mental evaluations monthly to ensure our safety from them. We are all human. No one is perfect. Yet we trust police as if the are perfect and super humans out of fear. Our forefathers who wrote the constitution are rolling in their grave thinking what has happened to the land of the free, in which we revolted for our freedom from the English who are doing exactly the same as the police. Not all police are bad. I have a few who are friends but they agree. Police are becoming to powerful for their position/jobs. Walking over anyone and everyone with nothing to do but what they do best. interperate the law in there own way, some times lie because they know their word is stronger than yours, and make arrests. Sounds like they are the judges of peoples lives. They can and do sometimes write whatever they want in there reports. I just wish their job was to protect and serve. Oh wait it is, protect me from oncoming traffic and serve me a ticket for a tail light that works. When i proved it to him he hit it with his palm hard enough the bulb got loose and said pay your ticket and move on. Kindness and respect the key to avoid unnecessary harassment. Citizens start carrying video cameras for video proof because thats the only thing that will stand in court for proof of whatever may happen to you. Best of luck to all fellow air gunners stay safe, be responsible, and avoid getting your air gun stolen by the police unless its obvious you shouldn’t have one.

  31. Christian says:

    Dear John

    I bought a Walther CP99 compact co2 handgun and was wondering if I can open carry it in a holster. Could it also be concealed with out a CWP? I’m not trying to break any laws. If I can open carry it are there stores I can’t bring it inside? (WalMart,SAMs Club, and other big stores)
    Danville VA

    Thanks

  32. artie bishop says:

    I like what you have to say . still the law is what thy say it is .if a person has a air gun .and the law wont’s to get you for having it thy will . it may not be right and it may not be the law .still you will have a hard time over having it . good luck to all .have fun stay safe and God bless ( ps) if I didn’t spell something right I no you will get what I am saying

  33. Amanda says:

    Mr. Pierce,

    Thank you for your well compiled article. It was very informative and useful for my situation. My husband and I have recently purchased an airsoft gun and we like to shoot at targets off of our pier in our backyard. We live on a lake and own the part of the lake we are shooting toward. A neighbor across the lake and on the other side of the street has expressed concern to us that what we are doing is making them nervous and they will call the police if we continue. I do not want any trouble, and I don’t want to cause any problems in the community. We are very safe and make sure the projectiles do not cross any property boundaries. Should we have any concerns if the police are called? We live in Portsmouth, VA.

    Thank you!

    • John Pierce says:

      Amanda,

      So long as you take proper precautions to insure that the projectile does not cross the property line then you would be covered by Virginia’s preemption law. That will not however prevent law enforcement from investigating if your neighbors call them. You should first attempt to reassure your neighbors and, failing that, be prepared to demonstrate to the officers that you are in compliance with § 15.2-915.4. At a quick glance, Portsmouth itself does not appear to have a discharge ordinance which applies.

  34. Darin says:

    I live in Prince George county, Va in a subdivision, but the houses are still pretty spaced out. I have 2 acres. Anyway, I have a crosman 2100 .177 cal, and was wondering if I’m allowed to shoot in my backyard. Also, am I allowed to hunt small game in my backyard with it? I’m 13.

    • John Pierce says:

      Darin,

      So long as you take care to insure that you are shooting in a safe direction with a proper backstop and the projectile does not cross the property line you should be fine to shoot in your backyard. However, the preemption law discussed here does not extend to hunting. You will have to check with your local hunting regulations to see if you are (1) allowed to hunt in your part of the county; (2) allowed to take small game with an airgun; (3) that you are in season; and (4) what licenses are required for hunters your age.

      John

  35. Darin says:

    By the way, I wanted to hunt gray squirrels and mourning doves.

  36. Darin says:

    Any responses are apriciated.

  37. tomatokilla says:

    Just got my 9 year old a Daisy Grizzly for his bday, thanks for the info!

  38. Mary says:

    My son has a Daisy BB gun and shoots it in our back yard at cans and paper targets. A police officer for a neighboring city lives next door. He was spotted today recording my son shooting targets. It’s good that we are within the law, but what gives with Officer Ass Hat recording video?

  39. Ray says:

    John,

    Thank you for pulling all of this information together into one article. It is eminemtly useful.

    I have no reason to believe that most air gun enthusiasts are responsible with their guns. However, I currently share a back yard boundary with a neighbor who has set up a pretty elaborate air rifle, complete with compressed air tank, on his back deck and takes target practice in his back yard. He sets up targets (against trees, with no backstop except the soil (he shoots from a slightly lower elevation)) and shoots diagonally across his yard (not directly at my house).

    I don’t think he means any malice but this set up doesn’t exactly sound safe. While I don’t have any evidence that he has hit anything on my property, a couple of neighbors have found holes consistent with pellet shots. The sherriff(s) has/have been out to talk to him and, while they indicated he uses a rather high-powered and potentially lethal weapon, there is nothing thay can do until the neighbors can prove the damage came from his gun.

    I should point out that we live in a densly populated subdivision in Loudoun County (.25 acre lots on average) and the neighborhood is full of kids outside playing. Aside from him not using a backstop (except for a tree that is less than the width or the target), is there anything we can do about this legally?

    Thanks in advance.

    • John Pierce says:

      Ray … Unless you can prove that he is discharging the firearm in such a way as to allow projectiles to cross a property line, he is perfectly within his rights. What kind of ‘holes’ have your neighbors found?

  40. Ray says:

    Hi, John. Thanks for your response. Since I posted the original comment, there is an update. One of my neighbors received a visit from the shooter and he drew her attention to two holes in her aluminum siding which he all but admitted were a result of him shooting his airgun. He was apologetic and offered to pay for the damage. Those details are being worked out. A different neighbor pointed out the hole in his window that was most likely caused by a deflected BB/pellet. He can’t prove they came from this man’s airgun, other than circumstantially, so I don’t know what recourse he has.

    Since he has now admitted causing damage to someone else’s property, what can we do?

    • John Pierce says:

      Ray … Since he seemingly is willing to address the issue I would suggest just talking to him about improving his setup so that there is a better backstop. It is always better to work together than fight over legal issues. Remind him that there are children in the neighborhood and any injury to them would subject him to both criminal and civil liability.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>