Virginians may carry weapons for personal protection into places of worship while religious services are being conducted, according to a new legal opinion by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R).

Virginia law bars carrying weapons in churches and other worship houses while a religious meeting is being held unless a person has “good and sufficient reason.”

In an opinion written Friday and posted on Cuccinelli’s Web site Monday, Cuccinelli indicates that the “right of self-defense lies at the heart of the right to keep and bear arms.” Therefore, he concludes that “carrying a weapon for personal protection constitutes a good and sufficient reason under the statute.”

However, Cuccinelli indicates that places of worship can choose to restrict or bar weapons if they wish, indicating that churches, synagogues, mosques and other institutions have a private property right to set their own rules with regards to guns.

The legal opinion comes in response to an inquiry from state Del. Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg), who had sponsored an unsuccessful bill in 2010 to make it legal for a concealed weapons permit holder to carry a handgun in a place of worship during religious services with the permission of a religious leader.

If widely followed, Cuccinelli’s ruling would have the same effect — opening places of worship to weapons unless they are barred by the religious institution.

Cuccinelli’s opinion is only advisory and does not carry the force of law.