The following is a video transcript.
The laws regarding carrying firearms in schools and churches often confuse people in Virginia for a variety of reasons. Often, churches have some sort of school in or attached to them. Likewise, at times, schools sometimes allow churches to hold a service in an auditorium or similar space. Both situations present difficult questions regarding your right to carry a firearm on the property. Let’s start with a few basic premises.
First, we need to understand the distinction between Sunday schools and K-12, Kindergarten through 12th grade schools. Because Sunday schools alone are not considered part of the K-12 school system where carry is prohibited by statute, carry of firearms on premises that only have a Sunday school is not prohibited by either Virginia or federal law. Second, we need to know that guns are generally not allowed in public, private, or religious K-12 school buildings or grounds, outside of particular exceptions in Virginia, such as a Concealed Handgun Permit holder carrying a firearm inside their vehicle in the parking lot or driveway of the school. You can find this law at VA Code § 18.2-308.1.
Furthermore, under federal law, firearms are generally restricted within 1,000 feet of a K-12 school, unless one of the exceptions in the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act applies, such as possessing a valid license or permit to carry firearms issued by the state they are in. Similarly, in Virginia, while firearms are also generally not allowed in church, a more expansive exception to the law exists here. The Virginia exception stands for the proposition that so long as the church has not otherwise precluded weapons on the property and the weapon is carried for a good and sufficient reason, such as self-defense, you may be able to carry a firearm at church.
The most complicated questions arise in the case of co-mingling with public, private, or religious K-12 schools allowing a church to use the property; or a church having its own private or religious K-12 school on the grounds. In these difficult scenarios, the safest advice is not to possess firearms on any grounds that have a K-12 school.
It is worth noting that exception number three to VA Code § 18.2-308.1, which generally prohibits firearms on school grounds and property, recognizes an exception for persons who possess such weapons as part of any program sponsored or facilitated by either the school or any organization authorized by the school, to conduct its programs either on or off the school premises. This may apply to situations where a school property has authorized a church to use the premises and the church allows the carry of weapons as part of a safety team.
However, we urge people not to carry a weapon—even in this situation—as this is an untested area of law and the consequences of a conviction is a Class six felony. This is a serious crime which is punishable by up to five years imprisonment and would permanently affect your Second Amendment rights.
For further questions on this subject, please contact U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.