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Thread: New Va AG opinion on guns, churches, and private property rights

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    New Va AG opinion on guns, churches, and private property rights

    Nothing earth shattering, but a recent Virginia Attorney General Opinion on firearms, churches, and private property.

    Virginia has had for a long time a statute that forbids carrying any “dangerous weapon”—including firearms—into a place of worship without “good and sufficient reason”:

    18.2-283. Carrying dangerous weapon to place of religious worship. — 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.

    Recently a delegate submitted a question to the Attorney General asking for clarification of this statute. Here is the opinion:

    AG Op. CRIMES AND OFFENSES GENERALLY: CRIMES INVOLVING HEALTH AND SAFETY, 2011 Va. AG S-23 (10-043)

    CRIMES AND OFFENSES GENERALLY: CRIMES INVOLVING HEALTH AND SAFETY — DANGEROUS USE OF FIREARMS OR OTHER WEAPONS.

    Carrying a weapon for personal protection constitutes a good and sufficient reason under the statute to carry a weapon into a place of worship while a meeting for religious purposes is being held there, yet places of worship can restrict or ban firearms from their premises.

    The Honorable Mark L. Cole
    Member, House of Delegates

    April 8, 2011

    Issues Presented

    You ask whether it is permissible for a citizen to carry his firearm into a place of worship for personal safety purposes under 18.2-283, which requires a “good and sufficient reason” for carrying a firearm into “a place of worship while a meeting for religious purposes is being held at such place.”1 You further inquire whether a church may ban weapons on its property. The construction of this statute has been the source of multiple inquiries to this office.

    Response

    It is my opinion that carrying a weapon for personal protection constitutes a good and sufficient reason under the statute to carry a weapon into a place of worship while a meeting for religious purposes is being held there. It is further my opinion that places of worship can restrict or ban firearms from their premises.

    Applicable Law and Discussion

    The right to bear arms is protected by the Constitutions of Virginia2 and of the United States.3 St. George Tucker, author of the first scholarly commentary on the federal Constitution in 1803, described the right to bear arms as “‘the true palladium of liberty.’”4

    Section 18.2-283 of the Virginia Code provides that “(i)f any person carry any gun, pistol . . . 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.” Section 18.2-283 is a penal statute. “(A) fundamental rule of statutory construction is that penal statutes are to be strictly construed against the Commonwealth and in favor of a citizen's liberty.”5

    The right of self-defense lies at the heart of the right to keep and bear arms. As the United States Supreme Court has recognized,

    (s)elf-defense is a basic right, recognized by many legal systems from ancient times to the present day, and in Heller,(6) we held that individual self-defense is the central component of the Second Amendment right . . . Thus, we concluded, citizens must be permitted to use handguns for the core lawful purpose of self-defense.(7)

    Given the strict construction of penal statutes and the pedigree of the right to self-defense, I conclude that lawfully carrying a firearm for self-defense and personal protection constitutes a “good and sufficient” reason within the intendment of 18.2-283.

    With respect to your second question, the church can ban guns on its property if it so chooses. The Constitution of Virginia protects the right to bear arms, but it also recognizes the importance of property rights.8 Moreover, the Second Amendment acts as a restraint on government, not private parties. Churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious entities can, like any other owner of property, restrict or ban the carrying of weapons onto their private property.

    Conclusion

    Accordingly, it is my opinion that carrying a weapon for personal protection constitutes a good and sufficient reason under the statute to carry a weapon into a place of worship while a meeting for religious purposes is being held there and it is further my opinion that places of worship can restrict or ban firearms from their premises.

    FOOTNOTES

    1 I will assume for purposes of this opinion that the citizen wishing to carry a concealed weapon has an appropriate permit.

    2 “(T)he right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed(.)” VA. CONST. art. I, 13.

    3 “The right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” U.S. CONST. amend. II. The Second Amendment applies to the States as well as to the United States government. McDonald v. City of Chicago, 561 U.S. ___ 081521, 130 S. Ct. 3020, 3026 (2010) (quotations and citations omitted).

    4 District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 606 (2008) (quoting 1 Blackstone's Commentaries, app. 300, Note D, “View of the Constitution of the United States” (1803)).

    5 Fullwood v. Commonwealth, 279 Va. 531, 536, 689 S.E2d 742, 746 (2010).

    6 Heller, 554 U.S. at 570 (recognizing that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms).

    7 McDonald, 561 U.S. at ___, 130 S. Ct. at 3036 (quotations and citations omitted).

    8 VA. CONST. art, , I (recognizing the right of “acquiring and possessing property” as one of the inherent rights of mankind).

    Thoughts anyone?
    Last edited by Bryan; 04-18-2011 at 09:57 AM. Reason: formatting error

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