Virginia Gun Laws
From page A1 of today’s Washington Post: Guns Worn In Open Legal, But Alarm Virginia
On July 2, Fairfax County police received a 911 call from a Champps restaurant in Reston. Six men are seated at a table, the caller said. They’re all armed. Dispatchers quickly sent four officers to the scene. The officers were “extremely polite” and were hoping that some of the men were in law enforcement, said Sgt. Richard Perez, a spokesman for the police department. None was. The men told the officers “they were just exercising their rights as citizens of the commonwealth,” Perez said.
Turns out, packing a pistol in public is perfectly legal in Virginia. And three times in the last month, including at Champps on Sunset Hills Road, residents have been spotted out and about in the county, with guns strapped to their hips, exercising that right. In the first episode, at a Starbucks, Fairfax police wrongly confiscated weapons from two college students and charged them with a misdemeanor. Police realized their mistake, returned the guns and tore up the charges the next day. Police commanders have since issued a reminder to officers that “open carry” is the law of the land in the Old Dominion.
Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, an organization of thousands of Virginia gun owners, said members were involved in all three police encounters. But he said there was no coordinated campaign to start packing heat publicly. “It was probably more of a coincidence, but not completely,” Van Cleave said, noting that word of the improper confiscation spread quickly among members through e-mail. “This is a good opportunity to educate people. We have this inherent right, and not many people exercised it.”
In Virginia, as in many states, carrying a concealed weapon requires a permit, issued by a local court. But no permit is required to simply wield a gun in the open, a right reinforced by a state law that took effect July 1. Not so in the District and Maryland, unless you’re a police or federal officer.
This isn’t page one news of a major national paper because the editors wish to call attention to the fact that Virginia’s police officers apparently get very little training in the law. Rather, the focus is on the fear that this is causing in some unspecified number of Virginians. At least two of them, anyway.
“This just shows you the extreme nature of what they’re trying to do,” said Bob Ricker, head of Virginians for Public Safety. “You don’t want to go to Starbucks or Reston Town Center and see somebody with a firearm strapped on,” he added, referring to two locations where armed patrons were found. “It’s just something that I think is completely unreasonable. We all understand the concept of self-defense. . . . But when you’re talking about Fairfax County, you have to look at what is reasonable.”
Openly carrying weapons is “not a good idea,” said Kristen Rand of the Violence Policy Center in Washington. “This is the gun lobby‘s vision of how America should be. Everybody’s packing heat and ready to engage in a shootout at the slightest provocation.”
Goodness knows, we don’t want people drinking too much coffee and then going on a shooting spree. It’s well documented that the consumption of soy lattes and gunplay are highly correlated. Oddly, though, it doesn’t seem to be happening.
“Crime is at 20-year lows in the county,” Lt. Col. Charles K. Peters pointed out, even though the population is soaring. The county’s homicide rate was the lowest in the nation last year among the 30 largest jurisdictions.
I wonder what the stats are in the District and the adjacent counties in Maryland, where carrying a handgun is illegal?*
(Hat tip: Mark the Pundit)
*I’ve got my suspicions, mind you, but can’t find the answer readily in the 2003 Uniform Crime Report PDF. And, sure, the ability to carry guns on one’s person is probably not the most important variable.