I’m sure many of you have heard of the “knockout game.” If you haven’t, it is a game where the participants randomly select an innocent stranger and attempt to knock them out with one punch. Three people have already been killed in suspected knockout attacks. As Matt Walsh notes:

Defending yourself against knockout criminals with a gun
Photo by Dan Burton on Unsplash

In some corners of the Earth, this activity is also known as “attempted murder.” Here, for some teenagers, it’s a hobby, like collecting baseball cards.

Matt advises his readers to defend themselves with a gun. This is good advice, but before you do that, here’s a primer on Virginia law.

In Virginia, you may open carry a weapon in most places with or without a concealed handgun permit. If you go on private property and the owner of the establishment prohibits guns, you must abide by their wishes. To learn more about where you can carry, I would recommend you check out the Virginia Citizen’s Defense League website. For example, there are prohibitions on carrying on federal facilities and schools.

In Virginia, if you desire to conceal carry a weapon, you will need a Concealed Handgun Permit. This is relatively easy to get. You can take a concealed carry online safety course, then apply for your concealed handgun permit at your local Circuit Court. Again, the VCDL website may be a good resource for you to learn about prohibited areas.

But be careful not to brandish a weapon. Virginia Code § 18.2-282 states:

It shall be unlawful for any person to point, hold or brandish any firearm or any air or gas operated weapon or any object similar in appearance, whether capable of being fired or not, in such manner as to reasonably induce fear in the mind of another or hold a firearm or any air or gas operated weapon in a public place in such a manner as to reasonably induce fear in the mind of another of being shot or injured. However, this section shall not apply to any person engaged in excusable or justifiable self-defense. (emphasis mine)

Some commentators have argued that the brandishing statute should be rewritten to prevent those with hoplophobia, an unreasonable fear of guns, from abusing the statute. There was recently a case where a citizen that was moving his own weapon from his person to a console while in his own vehicle was charged with brandishing a weapon because he was spotted by a hoplophobic bystander.

You should only draw your weapon if you need it for self-defense and are justified in using it. Brandishing a firearm in defense of personal property is a crime. There must be imminent danger to human life to justify drawing your weapon. The Virginia Court of Appeals notes: “… the amount of force used to defend oneself must not be excessive and must be reasonable in relation to the perceived threat.” Diffendal v. Commonwealth, 8 Va.App. 417, 421, 382 S.E.2d 24,25 (1989).

The Virginia Citizens Defense League properly cites the relevant portions of the Sands case, which states:

The “bare fear” of serious bodily injury, or even death, however well-grounded, will not justify the taking of human life…. “There must [also] be some overt act indicative of imminent danger at the time.” (citations omitted). In other words, a defendant “must wait till some overt act is done[,] … till the danger becomes imminent.” (citation omitted). In the context of a self-defense plea, “imminent danger” is defined as “[a]n immediate, real threat to one’s safety ….” (citation omitted). “There must be . . . some act menacing present peril… [and] [t]he act… must be of such a character as to afford a reasonable ground for believing there is a design… to do some serious bodily harm, and imminent danger of carrying such design into immediate execution.” – Commonwealth v. Sands, 262 Va. 724, 729, 553 S.E.2d 733, (2001).

Because these knockout thugs operate with the element of surprise and there is legal risk involved in drawing a weapon preemptively or even in firing in self-defense, I would counsel you to be thoughtful about whether you should open carry or conceal carry your handgun. Some of my readers may opt to do both. Obviously you can’t brandish a weapon, but open carrying may provide a deterrent effect. (Or perhaps you might open carry an unloaded weapon and conceal carry a loaded one if you foresee someone grabbing your weapon.)


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