Posts on Facebook wrongly claim that Virginia has “announced the end of youth hunting.” The state’s Department of Game & Inland Fisheries confirmed that there have been “no such changes” in state laws, and scheduled youth hunting days remain on the calendar.
Viral posts shared by thousands on Facebook decry the “end of a 400 year tradition” in Virginia because of a supposed decision by the state to “end” youth hunting. But the state has in fact made no such move.
“Yesterday Virginia announced the End of Youth Hunting!” the posts read. “The Governor said that no kid under 18 will be allowed to shoot a gun. This is the end of a 400 year tradition of kids helping put food on their family’s table. It’s a sad day in the Commonwealth.”
We’re not sure what date “yesterday” refers to, but we searched for any announcements by the state government and could find no evidence to support the claim.
A spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Game & Inland Fisheries told FactCheck.org the posts are “untrue” and provided us with a statement from the agency.
“There are no changes to currently scheduled youth hunting days. All current laws and regulations pertaining to hunting in Virginia are in effect as shown on the DGIF website and the current Hunting & Trapping in Virginia Digest,” the statement reads. “Any changes to hunting laws would require action either by the Virginia General Assembly or the Board of Game and Inland Fisheries, and currently no such changes are proposed.”
The department’s website outlines a number of youth hunting events that have been and will be held — including a youth and veterans hunting day for waterfowl in February, which will permit those 15 years old and younger to hunt, within certain restrictions and requirements. The department referred us to existing statutes in state law that spell out the legal parameters for youth hunting.
Confusion regarding the age “to shoot a gun,” in the words of the viral posts, appears to stem from a gun control proposal pushed by Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat. A spokeswoman for the governor told the Associated Press that the proposed legislation would not have an effect on “responsible” hunters.
The proposed legislation would modify existing law, making it “unlawful for any person to recklessly leave a loaded, unsecured firearm in such a manner as to endanger the life or limb of any person under the age of 18” (instead of 14, as the current law states). That crime would also be classified as a felony, rather than its current misdemeanor status.
The same bill leaves intact a provision in existing law that makes it “unlawful for any person knowingly to authorize a child under the age of 12 to use a firearm except when the child is under the supervision of an adult.” So, even under the proposal, state law would continue to allow certain instances of minors under 12 to use firearms in supervised settings.
The proposal is a part of a larger package of gun control measures that Northam proposed during a special session in July — weeks after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach in May — but the bills have not advanced in the Republican-controlled legislature. In other words, they haven’t been passed, let alone signed into law.
After Democrats won control of the state legislature this month, Northam said those gun control measures would be reintroduced.
“Governor Northam Unveils Gun Violence Prevention Legislation Ahead of July 9 Special Session.” Press release, Virginia Office of the Governor. 3 Jul 2019.
Pearson, Paige. Spokeswoman, Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries. Email to FactCheck.org. 21 Nov 2019.
Virginia General Assembly. “House Bill No. 4006, A bill to amend and reenact § 18.2-56.2 of the Code of Virginia, relating to allowing access to firearms by minors; penalty.” (as introduced 8 Jul 2019)
“Youth Hunting Opportunities.” Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries. Accessed 22 Nov 2019.