In a nod to gun-rights advocates, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has directed the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation to stop enforcing a law that prohibits people from openly carrying guns in state parks.

The directive follows an advisory opinion McDonnell issued in 2008 as the state’s attorney general, when he found that the DCR lacked the authority to prohibit people from carrying firearms.

McDonnell also signed off on changes to state regulations that would allow both open and concealed carry of firearms in state forests such as Conway-Robinson State Forest in Prince William County. Those changes must still go through a public comment stage.

McDonnell’s moves mark a victory for gun advocates that stands in stark contrast to measures being considered elsewhere in the country, where debate is focused on stricter gun control proposals following the Jan. 8 shootings in Arizona of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and 19 others, six of whom died.

“We’re going in the right direction,” said Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun-rights advocacy group.

Joshua Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, argued that with Virginia’s so-called “gun show loophole” that allows gun purchases without background checks, dangerous people could end up open-carrying in parks frequented by families and children.

“You have no idea whether they’re qualified to own a gun or to use a gun,” he said. “So on a public safety level, that’s my concern.”