Cuccinelli opinion clarifies gun-transport law

Virginians who can lawfully possess firearms do not need concealed-weapons permits to keep loaded handguns within reach in vehicles, according to Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II.

The official advisory opinion does not codify anything new — that job would be the General Assembly’s — but clarifies what some had seen as a potentially nebulous recent change to state gun law.

Before 2010, absent certain exceptions, the law that prohibited carrying a concealed weapon without a permit also barred transporting a handgun “in a concealed manner” in a vehicle. This included guns that were stored in glove compartments or center consoles.

The 2010 legislature, however, added another exemption for “any person who may lawfully possess a firearm and is carrying a handgun while in a personal, private motor vehicle or vessel” — an exception that applies when the gun is secured in a container or compartment. It need not be locked, according to Mr. Cuccinelli.

The opinion, released this week, was in response to an inquiry from state Sen. Stephen D. Newman, Lynchburg Republican.

“You have what appears to some to be contradictory sections of the code now, and I think the attorney general did a really good job,” he said.

Mr. Newman asked for the opinion because a constituent was having trouble getting a clear answer on the applicability of the law, he said.

“This individual had gone to numerous law enforcement agencies and had asked the same question and had gotten different answers from each one,” he said. “On something like a gun charge, you just can’t have that. It’s important to have law laid out very clearly.”

Employers can still bar firearms on their property, Mr. Cuccinelli said.

“The Constitution of Virginia protects the right to bear arms, but it also recognizes the importance of property rights,” he wrote. “Moreover, the Second Amendment acts as a restraint on government, not private parties. Employers can, like any other owner of private property, restrict or ban the carrying of weapons.”

Mr. Cuccinelli couched his response with the caveat that it is limited to Virginia. Federal law may differ on transporting handguns across state lines.

The state legislature passed several gun-rights measures during the 2012 General Assembly session, most notably a bill repealing the law, dating back to the governorship of Democrat L. Douglas Wilder, banning the purchase of more than one handgun per month. The law was passed in the 1990s in an effort to reduce gun trafficking from the state to others along the East Coast, primarily New York. Proponents of the repeal argued improved background-check technology and numerous exemptions in the law rendered it unnecessary.

The legislature also passed a bill sponsored by Delegate Brenda L. Pogge, Newport News Republican, preventing local governments from passing rules preventing their employees from storing lawfully possessed firearms and ammunition in personal vehicles at the workplace. The measure makes exceptions for publicly appointed bodiesthat provide mental-health and substance-abuse services in cities and counties around the state.

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