May a non-resident get their gun rights restored in Virginia?

Residents_OnlyUPDATE:  As of July 1, 2015 this article is no longer correct.  Non-residents may now get their gun rights restored in Virginia.


An increasing percentage of my law practice deals with gun rights restoration.  Therefore, it is not surprising that I am frequently asked how, or if, a non-resident may petition to have their gun rights restored in Virginia.

The typical discussion goes something like this:

“I lived in Virginia 20 years ago.”

“While there I was convicted of felony X.”

“I have since moved to State Y.”

“State Y requires that I have my rights restored in Virginia before I can get my rights restored in State Y.”

“How do I do that?”

This is the point where I have to deliver some really bad news … there is no way for a non-resident to get their rights restored in Virginia.

You heard that right … absent a pardon, which are generally only granted in “exceptional situations,” non-residents have no vehicle by which they may pursue the restoration of their gun rights in Virginia.

Last year, the Supreme Court of Virginia addressed this very issue in the case of Commonwealth v. Leone, 747 S.E.2d 809 (2013).  The court’s summary of the issue was:

The plain language of Code § 18.2-308.2(C) provides only one method by which a petitioner can have his firearm rights restored, and that method is to “petition the circuit court of the jurisdiction in which he resides.”

Article VI, Section 1 of the Constitution of Virginia grants to the General Assembly the power to determine the jurisdiction of the courts of the Commonwealth. In Gallagher v. Commonwealth, 284 Va. 444, 452, 732 S.E.2d 22, 26 (2012), we held that “[t]he legislative grant of jurisdiction to the circuit courts, in Code § 18.2-308.2(C), to restore firearm rights falls directly within that constitutional grant of power to the General Assembly.”  The jurisdiction to restore firearm rights is vested solely in the circuit courts.

However, when the General Assembly granted circuit courts the jurisdiction to restore those rights, it limited the territorial jurisdiction of circuit courts to adjudication of petitions for restoration filed by persons who reside within the territorial jurisdiction of the circuit court. … Territorial jurisdiction is the “authority over persons, things or occurrences located in a defined geographic area.”

So … if you want to have your firearms rights restored in Virginia and no longer live here … you are going to need to move back … at least for a time.

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