RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — After this week, Virginians trying to obtain a concealed carry permit won’t be able to take an online course as part of the application process.
Under a new state law that takes effect on January 1, 2021, in-person classes will still be an option but virtual courses will no longer fulfill the state’s training requirement.
Virginia lawmakers who backed the legislation earlier this year argued that many online offerings were too quick and easy to promote gun safety. Opponents argued that the rule would be a barrier for some, even more so during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday, a long line of Chesterfield residents waited at the county courthouse to turn in their applications before the new year. Ryan Heathcock was among them.
Heathcock said he doesn’t own a firearm but he intentionally completed his permit application before state law changes. He said he finished an eight hour virtual training course on Wednesday morning after failing the first time.
“I’m just glad that I was able to sneak in with the law as it’s currently written and not have to deal with what happens after January the 1st,” Heathcock said. “It’s not an accident that the courthouse is full today. I’m not the only person who feels this way.”
Data provided to 8News shows concealed handgun permit applications in Chesterfield have surged throughout 2020 compared to 2019, though it’s not possible to tell how many of those people did online training.
The trend corresponds with an increase in firearm sales nationwide.
“I would definitely say that this has been the largest year I’ve ever seen,” said Chesterfield County Circuit Court Clerk Wendy Hughes. “I think a lot of people probably thought July 1 would’ve been the effective date so we saw a sharp increase in June. But December has also been really busy.”
Steve Dowdy, co-owner of Bob’s Gun Shop in Norfolk, Virginia, said they’ve been offering online courses since 2007.
“We were the first in the country to do anything like that,” Dowdy said.
Since then, Dowdy said 50 to 60 other providers have come online. He said the quality of each course varies widely, with some lasting just minutes.
But rather than banning virtual training altogether, Dowdy said state lawmakers should set stricter standards on what material courses should cover. For example, he said people should have to learn how to handle a handgun, something he said is not currently required.
“There are going to be thousands of classes held where people just sit in, listen, learn and never touch a handgun, so in my opinion what’s the difference between online and that?” said Dowdy.
Dowdy said some customers may not feel comfortable doing an in-person class during the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this year, the Senate unanimously passed a bill that would’ve pushed back the enactment date of the new law to July 2021, instead of January 2021. That effort ultimately failed in the House of Delegates.