Brandishing a Firearm

brandishing a firearm in fairfax virginia


Virginia Code § 18.2-282 makes it unlawful for any individual to point, hold, or exhibit any firearm, air or gas-operated weapon, or any item resembling such objects. Commonly referred to as brandishing a firearm, this offense occurs when a person displays a weapon in a manner likely to instill fear of injury or being shot in another individual.

Engaging in such conduct, defined as “brandishing,” may result in criminal charges. A violation of this statute constitutes a class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia, punishable by a maximum of one year in jail and a fine of up to $2500

Outlined below is a summary of the regulations regarding brandishing of firearms in Virginia:

  1. Definition of Brandishing a Weapon in Virginia
  2. Legal Defenses Against Charges of Brandishing a Weapon in Virginia
  3. Consequences of Brandishing a Weapon

1. Definition of Brandishing a Weapon in Virginia

To secure a conviction for brandishing a weapon, the Commonwealth must establish the following criteria:

  • The accused either pointed, held, or brandished a firearm, air or gas operated weapon,
  • or a similar object, regardless of its firing capability,
  • In a way that reasonably caused fear in another person’s mind, or
  • The accused held a firearm or air or gas-operated weapon in a public area in a way that could reasonably induce fear of being shot or harmed.

In simpler terms, the core elements of the offense entail:

  • Displaying or handling a firearm, and
  • Doing so in a manner that reasonably instills fear in a potential victim.


The act of “brandishing” entails displaying or revealing something in a bold, unabashed, or confrontational manner.

For instance, when a man expresses interest in something and then lifts his shirt to reveal a flare gun tucked beneath, he is engaging in brandishing.


In the context of this law, a “firearm” refers to any weapon designed to expel single or multiple projectiles through the use of combustible material. It’s immaterial whether the firearm is operational or not.

Such conduct must reasonably cause apprehension in another’s mind

The term “fear” here doesn’t strictly mean terror; rather, it refers to apprehension. Thus, if a person reasonably apprehends potential harm, even if they’re not overtly afraid, the legal requirement is satisfied.

If the weapon is aimed or displayed towards multiple individuals, and each perceives a threat of harm, the defendant could face separate charges for each individual affected.

2. Legal Defenses Against Charges of Brandishing a Weapon in Virginia

There exist several defenses to § 18.2-282 Brandishing a Weapon that may be invoked by individuals facing charges under this statute.

Defense of property:

However, the defense of personal property has limitations:

In Virginia, the prevailing principle is that employing deadly force is not justified solely to protect personal property. This principle extends to cases of brandishing, where although lethal force hasn’t been used, the threat of such force is implied. Therefore, brandishing a firearm, as in the context of § 18.2-282, isn’t considered lawful if it’s solely for defending personal property.

This stems from the requirement that brandishing be proportionate to the perceived threat. For instance, if a property owner brandishes a shotgun at unarmed cable installers to drive them off the property, it may not be considered reasonable, given the perceived threat, especially if the installers were trespassing.


Self-defense in Virginia is legally recognized under its brandishing code section, which exempts individuals engaged in justifiable or excusable self-defense from its provisions. Hence, if you find yourself or someone else in a situation where lawful self-defense is warranted, Virginia’s laws on self-defense will offer protection for your actions.

Under Virginia law, self-defense is permissible if an individual:

  1. Reasonably believes there is imminent danger of an overt act.
  2. Perceives a threat of unlawful force, serious bodily harm, or death.
  3. Utilizes a proportionate amount of force in response to the level of harm anticipated.

Defense of others

Defense of others is permitted in Virginia under specific circumstances. In addition to defending oneself, individuals are allowed to protect others from harm. Virginia’s principle dictates that the defender assumes the legal position of the person they are protecting. Hence, if the individual being defended would have been justified in using self-defense, the third-party defending them is also considered justified.

However, a third party can only defend another individual if they reasonably believe the person defending did not provoke the attack.

3. Consequences of Brandishing a Weapon

Class 1 Misdemeanor

  • Conviction may result in up to a year of incarceration and a fine of $2500. 
  • The actual penalty varies based on the defendant’s criminal record or history and the seriousness of the crime.

Class 6 Felony

  • If the offense occurs within the premises of a public, private, or religious school or 1000 feet of such property, it is deemed a Class 6 felony.

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