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machine guns

Virginia law allows the possession of a machine gun for scientific purposes or for any purpose manifestly not aggressive or offensive.1 However, Virginia law requires every machine gun to be registered with the Department of State Police within 24 hours after its acquisition.2 Possession or use of a machine gun is presumed to be for an offensive or aggressive purpose when: (i) the machine gun is on premises not owned or rented for bona fide permanent residence or business occupancy by the person in whose possession the machine gun may be found; (ii) the machine gun is in the possession of, or used by, a person who has been convicted of a crime of violence; (iii) the machine gun has not been registered as required by Virginia law; or (iv) empty or loaded shells which have been or are susceptible of use in the machine gun are found in the immediate vicinity thereof.3

An application to register a machine gun must be notarized and show the model and serial number of the gun, the name, address and occupation of the person in possession, and from whom and the purpose for which the gun was acquired or altered.4 The Superintendent of State Police must furnish the registrant with a certificate of registration, which is valid as long as the registrant remains the same. Certificates of registration must be retained by the registrant and produced by him or her upon demand by any peace officer.5 Any peace officer may, without warrant, seize any machine gun if the owner does not comply. Upon transferring a registered machine gun, the transferor must notify the Superintendent, in writing, setting forth the date of transfer and name and address of the transferee. Registration data is not subject to inspection by the public.6

Every manufacturer or dealer must keep a register of all machine guns manufactured or handled by him or her that shows the model and serial number, date of manufacture, sale, loan, gift, delivery or receipt of every machine gun, the name, address, and occupation of the person to whom the machine gun was sold, loaned, given or delivered, or from whom it was received.7 Upon demand every manufacturer or dealer must permit any marshal, sheriff, or police officer to inspect his or her entire stock of machine guns, parts, and supplies therefor, and shall produce the register for inspection.8

“Machine gun” means “any weapon which shoots or is designed to shoot automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.”9

Federal law requires machine guns to be registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), and generally prohibits the transfer or possession of machine guns manufactured after May 19, 1986.10 In December 2018, ATF finalized a rule to include bump stocks within the definition of a machine gun subject to this federal law, meaning that bump stocks will be generally banned as of March 26, 2019.11

trigger activators and Auto SEARS

In 2020, Virginia passed a law banning trigger activators which were used in the 2017 mass shooting at the Route 91 Festival in Las Vegas that left 60 people dead and 421 shot. Virginia defines a trigger activator as a device designed to allow a semi-automatic firearm to shoot more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger by harnessing the recoil energy of any semi-automatic firearm to which it is affixed so that the trigger resets and continues firing without additional physical manipulation of the trigger by the shooter.12 In 2024, Virginia enacted a law banning auto sears, defined as a device, other than a trigger activator, designed for use in converting a semi-automatic firearm to shoot automatically more than one shot, without manually reloading, by a single function of the trigger.13 This definition includes bump stocks and “Glock switches.”

 See our Machine Guns policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue. 

  1. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-293.1. Unlawful possession or use of a machine gun for an offensive or aggressive purpose is a Class 4 felony. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-290.[]
  2. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-295. See also Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-293.1.[]
  3. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-291.[]
  4. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-295. []
  5. Id.[]
  6. Id.[]
  7. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-294.[]
  8. Id.[]
  9. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-288(1).[]
  10. 18 U.S.C. § 922(o); 26 U.S.C. § 5861(d).[]
  11. Bump-Stock-Type Devices, 83 Fed. Reg. 66,514 (Dec. 26, 2018) (to be codified at 27 C.F.R. pts. 447, 478, 479).[]
  12. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-308.5:1.[]
  13. Id.[]