People are beginning to panic about Covid-19. Regardless of how deadly the virus may or may not be, people need to worry about the reactions of their fellow citizens. In Virginia, a state of emergency has already been declared, and it is possible that a quarantine will be imposed in the future. Panic buying is taking place, and stores are beginning to report a shortage of many popular items. What effect will the state of emergency have on firearm rights?
If a federal state of emergency is declared the protections of 42 U.S.C. § 5207 will be impacted. This Federal law restricts what actions the federal government may take with respect to firearms during a state of emergency. The law prevents the government from seizing firearms otherwise legally owned, or requiring registration of firearms, unless such seizure or registration would have been authorized absent the state of emergency. The law also prevents the federal government from prohibiting the possession or carrying of otherwise lawfully owned or carried weapons. There is however a small exception in the Federal law that allows the federal government to require temporary surrender of a firearm as a condition of entry to any mode of transportation as part of a rescue or evacuation.
Under state law, Va. Code 44-146.15 is implicated which says that nothing allows the Virginia government during an emergency to “limit or prohibit the rights of the people to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by Article I, Section 13 of the Constitution of Virginia or the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.” This means that during a disaster, the government does not have the power to limit “the otherwise lawful possession, carrying, transportation, sale, or transfer of firearms.” There is a small exception in this law, which was used by the Governor during the annual VCDL lobby day in Richmond to limit firearms. This exception allows firearms rights to be limited during a disaster in any place or facility designed or used by the governor, or any other political subdivision of the commonwealth for purposes as an emergency shelter. If for any reason you are heading to a public government run shelter, firearms may be restricted.
State law does not restrict firearms in hospitals, although the hospital may have a policy against weapons. If you are going to a hospital, and it could be proved that you received adequate notice of a no gun policy, you could be subject to a criminal trespassing charge.
If a quarantine is issued, and you violate it, you may be subject to a class 1 misdemeanor.
Finally, we should discuss the loaning of firearms. As neighbors and loved ones start to worry about societal breakdown, we may be tempted to loan firearms out. Assuming the loan is a standard rifle, pistol or shotgun, and is occurring to another resident of Virginia, you simply need to make sure that the individual you are loaning the weapon to is eligible to possess it. Thankfully, the universal background check, which is likely to become law in the future is not yet in effect, so we do not need to concern ourselves with background checks. It would however be prudent to have the individual you are loaning the weapon to sign something acknowledging the fact that it is a temporary loan, the term of the loan, and indicating that they are not prohibited by law from possessing the item.
If you want to loan a weapon to a resident of another state there are some roadblocks. Federal law allows the loan of a firearm to a resident of another state only for temporary sporting purposes. A loan for home defense does not fit squarely within that definition. Keep in mind, any loan of the firearm to a resident of another state would also have to comply with the laws in that state.
Stay safe, stay healthy, and look out for your neighbors and friends. With panic buying going on, some of them may be short on supplies and need a hand. Being a good neighbor can go a long way.