The gun ban instituted in certain government buildings by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D.) last October does not make gun carry in those locations illegal, the state government clarified.
The "no guns" signs posted in certain public buildings throughout Virginia are not backed by the force of law. According to state officials, if an agency employee observes somebody carrying a gun in a newly restricted area, they are supposed to ask that person to leave. If the person refuses to leave, they may then be charged for trespassing.
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On October 15, 2015, McAuliffe signed an executive order implementing a number of new gun control measures. Among them was the ban on the carry of firearms in some executive buildings like the DMV and state liquor stores. The action faced immediate scrutiny from critics.
The head of the state's most active gun rights group questioned the gun carry ban's legality as soon as it was signed. "Does he have the authority to do the ban in government buildings? We don’t think he does," Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, told the Washington Free Beacon in October. "The problem that he has is that he’s been given no authority to do such a ban. The General Assembly issues concealed carry permits and they say where you can and can’t carry them. And there’s nothing in there that gives him any authority to say ‘you can’t carry a concealed handgun in this building.’"
Van Cleave said he thinks has been proven right.
"Really, if you carry concealed you're not breaking the law, you're simply breaking a policy," Van Cleave said. "It's kind of like walking into a 7-Eleven without shoes. It doesn't mean you're a criminal, it just means you're breaking their policy that you've gotta have shoes. And they can ask you to leave and if you don't leave you can be charged with trespassing."
McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy confirmed Van Cleave's claims to WVIR.
"If you enter a facility that's under the purview of this order, you'll be asked to leave or you'll be denied entry," he told the Richmond news station. "If you're respectful, that should be the end of the story."
That makes the governor's act of posting no gun signs on state agency buildings similar to a private property owner in Virginia doing the same. In each case, it is not illegal to carry a gun onto the property, but you must leave if asked, or face a trespassing charge. Van Cleave still sees the governor's ban as legally questionable, though.
"There's a real question that if this was ever taken to court just how far this would go," he said. "If I want to go to the DMV there's nowhere else I can go. I have to go to the monopoly that the state has on certain things. So if I need to go there on business and I'm lawfully carrying a gun, the question would be, ‘How can I be trespassing on public property, especially when I'm there on business to accomplish something only the government can do for me?'"
Van Cleave said the case would likely require somebody being arrested for trespassing in connection with the gun carry ban. He said that thus far he had not heard of anybody being arrested under the policy despite a number of gun owners telling him they had openly carried firearms into different state agencies across the state.
Coy did not respond when asked by the Washington Free Beacon whether anybody had been arrested or charged under the governor's policy.