- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2000

RICHMOND A panel of Virginia delegates was unable yesterday to find a compromise on bills to close loopholes that allow guns in schools in certain limited instances, making it unlikely the assembly will close any of the provisions this year.

Bills introduced by Delegate James H. Dillard II, Fairfax Republican, and several other bills from Northern Virginians were either killed outright or carried over to be considered next year after further study. The votes were lopsided, with usually only one or two delegates favoring the bills.

There is still more time to craft a compromise similar versions of the bills the House Militia and Police Committee killed yesterday come before a Senate committee today and could pass there. Even if they eventually make it through the full Senate, however, they will almost surely end up back in the same committee that killed them yesterday.

The sticking points were mainly ROTC programs, rifle teams and gun-safety classes, which exist in classrooms and schools around the state. Delegates were unable to come up with a definition of firearm that would let ROTC programs use their air weapons, and the coach at Yorktown High School in Arlington, which has a rifle team, told the delegates the bills would further hinder her team.

Mr. Dillard and supporters of the bills said safety classes taught by the state don't use live ammunition or guns capable of firing, but other coaches testified that they teach gun safety with weapons that fire.

Still, Delegate H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican and a committee member, said there is room for some compromise next year.

Nobody wants "shoot-'em-outs" at schools, he said, but added, "I think we need to be really careful about infringing with these organizations."

The committee did pass a bill that would redefine school property to include all buses used by public school systems, thus including them in the general prohibition against guns on school property. The bill has an exception if the guns are for school activities, so the Arlington rifle team would still be able to go to its practice, delegates said.

Guns became an issue after elections this fall, when some lawmakers' votes against a measure to prohibit guns from being left, locked and unloaded in cars in school parking lots became synonymous with allowing guns in schools. The exception to the law was meant to aid students who hunt before or after school.

Though nobody lost a seat based on that vote, several lawmakers, especially in Northern Virginia, vowed during the campaign to return and close the remaining loopholes.

Still, it's not clear that failing to get bills through will have any consequences for any of those lawmakers. The suburban ones on the House committee all voted in favor of the restrictions, and the ones who voted to kill the bills generally come from areas where that vote shouldn't hurt them, and could even help.

Pamela L. Pouchot, chairman of the Virginia Committee for Gun-Free Schools, said the issue is about guns in schools, not about gun rights.

But not everyone saw it her way. A half-dozen members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, which advocates for laws allowing concealed weapons, told lawmakers every time they add a new restriction to where guns can be carried they create another safe place for criminals to attack.

"Think about who you're going to kill next," said one member of the league, who told lawmakers arming teachers and administrators and even some students could stem some violence in schools.

Their comments left Mr. Griffith, who served as chairman of the subcommittee the bills came through yesterday morning, shaking his head. He said in the morning he was fielding questions about how conservative the committee was, but by the afternoon in full committee they were told they weren't going far enough to remove existing restrictions.

Among the other bills the panel failed to send to the House was one to set up a fund to pay for trigger locks most delegates said they didn't think it would be funded this year and one to allow concealed weapons in restaurants. That, too, was held over for study, as committee members worried about mixing guns and alcohol.

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