I practice in both Pennsylvania and Virginia, and over the past several days and weeks I have been inundated with questions regarding the legality of carrying a firearm while wearing a mask in both states. It is no wonder people are confused. Some have told me that their local Sheriffs have told them that Federal law prohibits carrying a firearm while wearing a mask. Others have sent me Facebook memes and posts stating that carrying a concealed weapon is illegal while wearing a mask and have even cited made up code sections. Neither are true. The short answer is that if you may otherwise lawfully carry a firearm, you may continue to do so in both PA and VA while wearing a mask. Keep in mind, there are states that criminalize this activity, so if traveling you still need to check on the laws in every other state you plan to visit. In fact, anytime you travel you should check the laws of the state you are traveling to.
Lets break this down by state.
Virginia law found at § 18.2-422 generally makes it a felony for someone over the age of 16 to wear a mask with the intent to conceal one’s identity. When wearing a mask after being ordered to during a pandemic, the state would have a difficult time proving that your intent was to conceal your identity. Secondly, the law offers multiple exceptions:
(i) wearing traditional holiday costumes;
(ii) engaged in professions, trades, employment or other activities and wearing protective masks which are deemed necessary for the physical safety of the wearer or other persons;
(iii) engaged in any bona fide theatrical production or masquerade ball; or
(iv) wearing a mask, hood or other device for bona fide medical reasons upon (a) the advice of a licensed physician or osteopath and carrying on his person an affidavit from the physician or osteopath specifying the medical necessity for wearing the device and the date on which the wearing of the device will no longer be necessary and providing a brief description of the device, or (b) the declaration of a disaster or state of emergency by the Governor in response to a public health emergency where the emergency declaration expressly waives this section, defines the mask appropriate for the emergency, and provides for the duration of the waiver.
In Executive Order (Second Amended) 53 Governor Northam explicitly waived the requirement applicability of § 18.2-422 for those wearing masks pursuant to his order through June 10th. So in Virginia you may continue to carry your firearm, either openly or concealed (so long as you are otherwise able to carry) through at least June 10th pursuant to E.O. 53. Arguably, even after the 10th, you may continue to carry a firearm while wearing a mask, so long as your intent is not to conceal your identity.
Pennsylvania does not have laws prohibiting the carry of a firearm while wearing a mask. With no law prohibiting this activity, you remain free to engage in it. Law does not generally set forth what activities you CAN do, but rather sets forth activity that you CANNOT do. Therefore, in PA, with a valid License to Carry Firearms (LTCF) you may either conceal or open carry a firearm, while wearing a mask.
Remember, common sense still applies (walking into a bank while open carrying and wearing a ski mask will not go well). There is also a real question on whether Governor’s ordering mask wearing is a valid exercise of their authority- but that is a question for another blog post. If you have further questions about carrying a firearm while wearing a mask, call Ambler Law Offices at (540) 550-4236.