RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Gov. Bob McDonnell has ordered an immediate end to a ban on firearms carried openly in Virginia state parks.
The Republican governor ordered Conservation and Recreation Department Director David Johnson to stop enforcing the ban in a letter sent Friday.
McDonnell also gave initial approval to another administrative change allowing firearms to be carried openly in state forests.
Concealed handgun permit holders were already free to carry firearms. The right to openly carry guns is widely recognized across Virginia.
In his letter, McDonnell wrote that the department lacks authority under state law to prohibit firearms being carried in plain view.
McDonnell said it was clear that the General Assembly never intended to restrict firearms in parks. "Lacking specific legislative authorization to further regulate firearms, the Department of Conservation and Recreation can not promulgate a regulation that does so," he wrote.
Until 2003, department regulations banned all firearms in state parks. That year, then-Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, ordered a change to allow concealed weapons.
"These regulations ... would simply allow law-abiding Virginians who legally own a firearm to exercise the same rights in a Virginia state forest or state park that they already possess while elsewhere in the commonwealth," said O'Donnell chief spokesman J. Tucker Martin.
In his letter to Johnson, McDonnell cites an opinion he wrote as attorney general on Sept. 26, 2008, answering an inquiry from then-Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican who is now attorney general.
In the opinion, McDonnell told Cuccinelli that although state laws don't explicitly permit weapons carried openly in parks, nothing in the law prohibits it, either. The opinion, however, did not persuade the governor at the time, Democrat Tim Kaine, to change the policy and allow firearms to be openly carried.
Gun control advocate Lori Haas, whose daughter survived a gunshot wound in the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, said it bad for public safety and for tourism.
"You really think we're going to get tourists to Virginia parks if people are carrying firearms everywhere," Haas said. "Who would want to be camping in a state park if the person in the next campsite is carrying an AK-47?"
By BOB LEWIS
AP Political Writer