Open Carry - VA Residents, please?


June 3, 2004, 12:37 PM
I know this will seem really basic to some of you, but here goes. I have a CCW permit, which in VA is called a CHP (Concealed Handgun Permit). I've read what I can on the subject, especially from VCDL, Packing.Org, and the State Police site. I've taken the requisite NRA training. In short, I feel I have a decent grasp on the ramifications of concealed carry in my state.

What I have never done is taken advantage of my right to open carry. I know the laws in regard to where and when, and how they're changing next month, but I just want an quick reality check to make sure my knack for grasping the obvious is still working:

In a nutshell, I strap it on and walk out of the house, and if someone in a private establishment or household objects I go put it in the trunk? That's it? (Other than the obvious like no schools or post offices, no drinking although I can open carry there, and no carrying where clearly placarded.)

It just sounds too easy. How likely is it -- and yes, I've seen some of the online threads -- that here in VA people will freak and call the cops?

(Personal note: I have long hair and tattoos, and might be dressed in jeans and t-shirt one day, oxford shirt and dockers another.)

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David Park
June 3, 2004, 01:07 PM
Yes, you just strap it on and go, and you can even drink while open carrying, although I would advise against it.

Lots of VCDL members open carry all the time, and rarely does someone ask them to leave. Even more rarely does someone call the cops, and most cops will just show up, confirm that you're just legally carrying and not threatening anyone, and leave. Just in case, you might carry a copy of the relevant laws with you. There is no law that explicitly states "open carry is legal", but a copy of CCW laws will show that anything the police might try to charge you with is not applicable. There is lots of good info on, including letters from both the State Police and ABC stating that open carry in restaurants serving alcohol is legal.

I tend to only open carry in "safe" situations, like VCDL gatherings or gun shows. I might do it more once I get training in handgun retention, etc. The few times I've "had" to open carry to stay legal (like in a restaurant), most people never even noticed. Mainly I just like the ability to remove my cover garment without breaking the law, like last weekend at a gas station when a cicada landed on me and didn't want to leave, and I ended up jumping around waving my shirt like a crazy person. :what: :D

June 3, 2004, 01:52 PM

Thanks, David.

Anyone else in VA got encouragement or warnings? Any problems shopping, going to Giant, the Mall, etc.?

Speaking of retention, should I get a thumb break OWB holster instead of just tucking my shirt under the VM2?

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June 3, 2004, 01:56 PM
I don't know... I live in VA near DC and I would advise against it not only from a tactical perspective (As in it is tacticaly retarded to open carry) but also because there are many people in this area that are not gun friendly and you will eventually end up meeting the cops under less than nice terms. Political ideology aside, open cary in this part of the world is not a great idea IMHO.

David Park
June 3, 2004, 03:23 PM
I agree that it's a tactical disadvantage (to some degree), which is why I only do it in certain situations. However, part of the reason for open carry is to demonstrate that gun owners are normal, polite folks. Yes, people may ask questions, but that provides an opportunity to educate, especially regarding silly laws like the "restaurant ban."

The other big reason for open carry is to exercise a right without having to obtain the government's permission (i.e., a CCW permit). If you're afraid to exercise a right because the cops might come, do you really have that right or has it been lost? (And like I said before, the cops are aware of the law and won't hassle you unless you're in a "prohibited" place.)

I have an OWB thumb break holster, with matching belt and mag carrier, which is my "open carry" rig. However, if you're going to use a thumb break holster, be sure to practice with it a lot. There's nothing worse than tugging on your gun wondering why it won't come out of the holster. :uhoh: Weigh that risk against the retention risk with a standard open-top holster. For example, a IWB Kahr PM9 is not easily noticed, much less grabbed, compared with a full-size Sig 220 on your belt.

June 3, 2004, 03:43 PM
" is tacticaly retarded to open carry ..."

SS: While this may be true from the perspective of the element of surprise, I'm curious - how many special forces operations or SWAT activities use concealed carry - as opposed to open carry? :scrutiny:

Unless you're concealing with Holo-emitters, it will take you longer to get the worn concealed gun, than the unobstructed open carried gun.

Here is my first hand - not internet, non relayed story on OC.
A guy rear ends my truck a couple weeks back - ON MY WAY TO THE RANGE.
I'm carrying IWB / exposed. The guy never paniced or even gave a hint one way or the other. As required by law, I hit #77 to ring up Johnny Law.

20 or so minutes later, J.L. of the Virginia State Police arrives, chats it up with us for ... 2 minutes maybe, we'd already exchanged info... After talking to the other guy, J.L. finally asks me:

J.L. - "are you a police officer?"
Me: "No".
J.L. - "Oh. Ok"

No hard time. No less than nice terms. No problems, nothing but polite professionalism. I routinely open carry in Fairfax county, as do many of the VCDL members ; some of whom either have no permit or rarely - if ever - conceal. Now, that having been said...

I use open carry for restaurants, pretty much exclusively, but I will leave a gun unconcealed in certain other, limited venues. I'm not trying to make political statements or get into lengthy discussions about firearms when I am out in public going about my business.

WRT holster choice. The test of reasonableness shall apply... VA law 18.2-308 says "...Hidden from common observation..." you may view court cases of the VA Appeals and Supreme court online. There are few but the ones there have held that a gun worn which requires a special view or perspective is concealed from common observation. So - is an open carried gun on your 3 or 9 o'clock, belt holster concealed while you're driving?

I'm no lawyer, but I would say that yes, it is concealed in that it requres a special perspective for someone else to know you are carrying a gun.

Now, change that from car to horseback. I say Nay (as opposed to neigh ;) ) because most will be able to tell in a normal view.

Applying this practically:

I used to use an IWB which was not so significantly exposed, but my newest - - ITP 1 in black - is much more concealed than my previous IWB's and in my - Citizen's - opinion, it is "hidden from common observation" and "of such an appearance that a common onlooker would not know it was a gun" when worn with dark clothing because only the butt of the gun is exposed. I would not use this holster and a black shirt together in a restaurant ...

For this circumstance, I have a Fobus that does the job quite well...

Fear not. This is Virginia, not some socialist republic masquerading as a State... Be a good citizen and you will not have problems.

June 3, 2004, 04:11 PM
OK, so the picture I'm getting is -- legalities aside -- the social reality is that most of you don't just go wafting around carrying. No grocery stores, movie theaters, strolling down Old Town Alexandria or Leesburg, etc.

Re Holsters: I've used a thumb break before, no probs there. But what's all this about the car? I have a CHP, so I can't see that it matters where I wear it then.

Speaking of which, got popped for speeding for the first time in years, on Rt 28 on the way to Bernie's, where it goes from 55 to 45. Deputy never asked for registration, just DL; I handed him DL and CHP together. When we were done conducting business (*sigh*), he handed them back without a comment. 'Course, he'd know as soon as he punched in my DL#, but I was trying to be forthcoming (and -- to be honest -- hoping it might inspire him to give me a warning instead).

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Mr. James
June 3, 2004, 04:50 PM
Ye gods, I got popped for speeding on Rt 28 at the Rt 29 interchange - same story, but I was guilty, no matter which limit was in force.

I have open carried frequently in Fairfax County, and throughout Virginia. I am of the view that no one knowingly picks a fight with an armed man when there are so many other unarmed targets around.

I have never had a sideways look, had the cops pig-pile me, been lectured, hectored, spat upon or otherwise subjected to general disapprobation, or any other untoward response. The thing to understand is very, very few people - shockingly few, if you think on it - will even notice your sidearm. Since nearly everyone has a phone or some other electronic device hanging on his belt, there is nothing in the least remarkable in a holster.

I've carried a six-inch Model 66 and a Springfield Champion 1911A1 - neither one exactly on the lines, dimension-wise, of a Kel-tec or Kahr.

It is, simply, a non-issue in Fairfax County - although I carry with great trepidation in neighboring Arlington.

To close, most folks won't notice. Those who do will assume you're some manner of LEO. If law enforcement confronts you, stay frosty and you'll be fine. The Fairfax police I've spoken to are well-versed in the law as regards to open carry.

You've done your homework - now exercise your rights.


The Undertoad
June 3, 2004, 09:50 PM
I open carried for the first time today in Norfolk. My friend and I were running an errand for our local gunshop owner as a favor and it took us to a sketchy part of town. So I strapped on the P22 appendix carry IWB. I felt really weird. I figured people would either think I was 1) a gangbanger type with either huge balls or no brains or 2) a cop (off duty or undercover because I was unshaven and wearing a fraternity t-shirt ;) ).

It went without a hitch though I got the feeling that everyone was staring at me it might have been my imagination. I would have felt much more comfortable had I just been able to untuck my shirt but noo, that's not legal until I get my CHP (which I plan to do as soon as I can afford to take the class...)


June 4, 2004, 03:10 PM
I'm going to be a little more careful around 28/29...

Dev, the Social reality is pretty close to what you came back with... Most of us aren't out making political statements or educating the public, but nevertheless if a restaurant is involved, so be it - OC it is. You're pretty on about OT Alexandria, lots of carpetbaggers who are easily spooked - and, be careful MD owns the water up to the High Tide mark - is the dock & pier there VA or MD ??? I don't know...

I think Leesburg would be a lot more tolerant. Personally, no, I don't OC in grocery stores, theaters and the like, but if there's even a chance of a restaurant, I'll be prepared for it.

June 4, 2004, 03:29 PM
Thanks, Dave. Let me know if Mike organizes another Fairfax get-together.

There seemed to be some kind of ticket blitz going on. I know everyone claims there's no such thing as quotas, but there are crackdowns. When I returned from VA Arms (this was last Sat., before the breakin), the same cop had someone else pulled over in the same area, and another cop was on the exact other side of the road with another vict- er, I mean speeder.

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June 4, 2004, 03:50 PM
I carry pretty much all of the time, either open or concealed (with a CHP) as the mood takes me. I've only ever been mistreated over it once. All other times I've either gotten no reaction or a positive one.

I make it a point to be extra polite, and extra even-tempered when I'm carrying, but especially when I'm open-carrying. Showing a good example, so to speak.

I bunch of my friends and I went to lunch at the Fair Lakes Red Robin restaurant a while back, and we were all carrying openly. The manager came over, and we talked guns with him for a while, and he noticed that we were pretty regular customers, and told us that the next time we came in, the meal was on him. :) Sometimes open carry can be a tactical advantage.


David Park
June 4, 2004, 09:00 PM
I'm pretty sure all of Old Town Alexandria is in VA, since I work here and I haven't noticed any "welcome to Maryland" signs. :D However, there is still a law on the books that bans something like carrying a loaded weapon in public, which would affect open carry. It will be pre-empted on July 1, and I've never heard of anyone getting in trouble because of it.

There may not be ticket-writing quotas, but cops seem to write a lot more just before the end of the month. :scrutiny:

June 4, 2004, 09:36 PM
As in it is tacticaly retarded to open carryOne (me) might say that concealed carry is politically retarded.

The antis want you to hide your gun so that fence-sitters only know gun owners by the mass media. That is a distinct disadvantage to us.


June 5, 2004, 03:29 AM
One (me) might say that concealed carry is politically retarded.

The antis want you to hide your gun so that fence-sitters only know gun owners by the mass media. That is a distinct disadvantage to us.


Plus, I think it's an area of considerable dispute whether or not it's actually tactically superior to carry openly.

Gray Peterson
June 5, 2004, 04:11 AM
Also, if you have a CHP, Arlington's carry law is preempted as far as you're concerned already.

June 5, 2004, 06:01 AM
I agree with much of what has been posted to this thread already, especially with David Park’s remarks. Having lived in Fairfax County for twenty-two years and carried concealed all of that time; I want to provide a few observations, in the form of “questions and answers”:

Q1: Is open carry legal in Virginia?
A1: Generally, it is; however, there are exceptions, including Falls Church in NorVa (note: several new handgun law go into effect on 1 July and I am not an attorney; these are my best opinions only).

Q2: Can I “get in trouble” by carrying openly?
A2: Most who carry openly do not have problems; however, some of this is LEO-dependent. If “Ms. Soccer Mom” makes a public scene in Fair Oaks Mall, a given police officer could arrest you for things like Creating a Public Disturbance or Disorderly Conduct. Whether the State’s Attorney would validate these charges is as much a “political” as a “legal” judgment. Further, many LEOs might advise the Soccer Mom that you were lawfully carrying. My advice, would to be unfailingly polite and non-belligerent, thereby making the Soccer Mom appear to be “irrational”.

Q3: Is open carriage likely to cause a disturbance?
A3: I don’t believe it is. The NorVa area is “loaded” with law enforcement – Federal, Virginia and local. I believe there is likely to be a presumption that you are a LEO, especially if your appearance and demeanor are appropriate, polite, and moderate.

Q4: Are there any other vulnerabilities?
A4: Yes, be aware that certain public areas (Landmark Mall is one example), almost all Federal buildings and reservations (including Post Offices), and a few municipalities ban certain firearms.

Gray Peterson
June 5, 2004, 09:23 AM
Q1 is incorrect to a point.

At the moment, if you have a CHP, you can carry openly dispite local ordinances to the contrary. As of July 1st, 2004, all grandfathered ordinances, which were nullified for CHP holders for open carry July 1 2003, are completely gone as far as state law is concerned.

Q4 is also incorrect on one point. There is no locality that bans "certain firearms". There is no assault weapon bans or any such nonsense in the cities, or even the existance of grandfathered ordinances that may prohibit "certain firearms". If they do exist, they are totally invalid as of 7/1/04.

June 5, 2004, 11:05 AM
Good info, thanks to all. When I got my CHP, I also picked up a copy of the "Virginia Gun Owner's Guide" which gives the various laws in their original 'legalese' and in plain English. I keep it handy, it's agood reference. You can usually find it in gun shops or at They seem pretty conscientious about keeping it current, updates are posted on their website. FWIW.

David Park
June 5, 2004, 12:49 PM
To emphasize a point that RWK touched on, although the new preemption law will invalidate all local ordinances on July 1, there is still a lot of federal land that prohibits firearms, whether carried open or concealed. For example, George Washington Parkway is a national park, where guns are prohibited. You're probably OK if you're just driving through, but I wouldn't open carry on the Mount Vernon Trail.

Also, there is a state law, not subject to preemption, that bans carry in certain large cities and counties (i.e., NoVa) of a the following loaded firearms:
(i) semi-automatic center-fire rifle or pistol which expels a projectile by action of an explosion and is equipped at the time of the offense with a magazine which will hold more than twenty rounds of ammunition or designed by the manufacturer to accommodate a silencer or equipped with a folding stock or;
(ii) shotgun with a magazine which will hold more than seven rounds of the longest ammunition for which it is chambered.

In practical terms, this means I can walk out the door with my AR-15 slung over my shoulder and loaded with a 20-rd magazine, but not with a 30-rd magazine, although I can have a bunch of 30-rd mags in my pockets. Silly, but keep it in mind.

The Virginia Gun Owners Guide is a great book, and hopefully an updated edition will be published next year with all of the 2004 changes. VCDL sells copies of this book, and the 50 State Traveler's Guide, at gun shows throughout the state. If you have the current edition, the only law missing (as of now) is the 2003 preemption law:

June 5, 2004, 02:16 PM

I believe my "Q&As" are correct, as David Park documented in his latest post. Also, open carry frequently is utilized by non-licensed individuals; that's where my post was focused.

June 6, 2004, 08:34 PM
My Dad doesn't recommend open carry where I live (Northern VA, I'm 15 so I wouldn't know as much as my Dad) because people here do tend to freak out, since many people here are liberal. Dern them thurr liberals. I dunno, but when I turn 21, I'll be all over a CCW permit.

June 7, 2004, 12:20 AM
My Dad doesn't recommend open carry where I live (Northern VA, I'm 15 so I wouldn't know as much as my Dad) because people here do tend to freak out, since many people here are liberal. Dern them thurr liberals. I dunno, but when I turn 21, I'll be all over a CCW permit.

Well, I wouldn't recommend carrying openly until you're 18--and it's probably not even legally possible, if I recall correctly--but I don't give a damn if it freaks out the liberals. It's perfectly legal, and I've actually converted a few antis who have come up to me and asked me why I felt the need to carry a gun.

June 7, 2004, 07:06 AM
A thought---do folks think the size of the weapon on the hip has an effect on the public's comfort level? A snubby or 4" vice a hogleg-type hand cannon? If you open carry but down play it, does that make it easier to "just get along"?

June 7, 2004, 08:08 AM
I would no more open carry my BHP in downtown Richmond than I'd walk around with 6 c-notes or a handful of gold chains hanging out of my pocket. Why invite trouble?


The Rock
June 7, 2004, 05:00 PM
I open carry on occasion and I have only been approached about it once, by a gentlemen that assumed I was some sort of LEO.

Usually it is just around Hampton Roads; tho I have carried openly out places before; usually while shooting, I'm not too thrilled with not being armed and have my guns and ammo at the opposite side of the range as me. :scrutiny:

I like open carry since I don't have to wonder if I am printing, but sometimes, you need to be discrete.


June 8, 2004, 08:57 AM
There are some local restrictions on open carry, Chesapeake comes to mind but those will go the way of the Dinosaur on July 1 when the 17 odd pro-gun bills that were supported by VSSA, NRA and other pro-gun groups become law.

I tend to be of the same mind as JohnBT however. To each his own.

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