Gov. Ralph Northam’s mask mandate for Virginians is in effect as of today, and while I suspect that the mandate is going to be largely unenforced throughout much of the state (and may very well be challenged in court) for gun owners who plan on wearing masks while shopping there’s still a question about the legality of carrying a firearm while wearing a mask.
Augusta County Sheriff Donald Smith says gun owners don’t have to worry about running into any legal troubles, despite a Virginia law that bans the wearing of masks while armed. In a Facebook post Thursday evening, the sheriff explained why he believes carrying while masked isn’t illegal, at least at the moment.
The VA Code Section that restricts you from concealing your identity does NOT apply in this situation. In this case, the Commonwealth of VA is under a “state of emergency” and the masks are in response to the Governor’s orders. This order doesn’t restrict your ability to conceal a firearm legally. Wearing a face mask (that covers your nose and mouth) while carrying a weapon is not a violation of this VA Code Section. Below I have attached the Code of VA addressing this. Section (b) at the very bottom addresses this specifically as to what does NOT apply to this code. I hope this clears up any confusion and helps ease everyone’s concerns.
Here’s the section of Virginia code that the sheriff referenced.
§ 18.2-422. Prohibition of wearing of masks in certain places; exceptions.
It shall be unlawful for any person over 16 years of age to, with the intent to conceal his identity, wear any mask, hood or other device whereby a substantial portion of the face is hidden or covered so as to conceal the identity of the wearer, to be or appear in any public place, or upon any private property in this Commonwealth without first having obtained from the owner or tenant thereof consent to do so in writing. However, the provisions of this section shall not apply to persons (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.
I appreciate the sheriff’s explanation, but I still have some questions. In the governor’s executive order requiring masks, Northam did not expressly waive this section of Virginia law, nor did he provide for a duration of the waiver (or even the duration of the order itself). Northam’s original order declaring a state of emergency back in March also failed to waive the section of Virginia law that makes it illegal to wear a mask in most circumstances.
In practice, I think it’s highly unlikely that any concealed carry holder is going to run into trouble for carrying while wearing a mask, but despite the sheriff’s explanation, it’s still unclear to me whether or not it’s technically legal to do so. Until the governor actually follows the law by specifically waiving this section of Virginia code and providing for an expiration date for his order, I’d check with my local sheriff’s office to ask them if they plan on enforcing the prohibition against carrying while masked. Again, in most parts of the state I don’t think it will be an issue, but I’m less confident about that being the case in some of the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.