- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2007

More than 200 people attended a gun giveaway last night at a Fairfax County government building despite last-minute legal questions raised by county and state officials.

Gun enthusiasts crowded into a conference room at the Mason District Government Center in Annandale, where the Virginia Citizens Defense League raffled off a pistol and rifle — each valued at about $1,000 — at its “Bloomberg Gun Giveaway.”

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a Republican, has argued that illegal gun sales in Virginia help perpetuate violent crime in New York.

Fairfax resident Jay Pinsky, who was the first winner, made an obscene hand gesture when asked what message he wanted to send Mr. Bloomberg.

Stephan Mayr of Arlington, the second winner, said he would like to tell Mr. Bloomberg, “Mind your own business.” Both winners must undergo federal and state background checks before taking possession of the guns.

Dozens of people — including members of the gun-rights group and anti-gun activists — crowded the foyer and sidewalk outside after being unable to enter the conference room because of fire regulations.

Among the protesters were parents of Mary Karen Read and Reema Samaha, two local victims of the April 16 Virginia Tech shooting.

Peter and Cathy Read and Joseph Samaha held posters picturing their daughters, both freshmen, who were among 32 victims fatally shot by another student.

In the days after the shooting, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, urged people not to turn the massacre into a political issue about gun control.

But for the parents of victims, it was personal, not political.

Mrs. Read fought back tears as she described her daughter to a crowd of reporters. “It hasn’t been much time,” she said of the shooting.

“This doesn’t go away for the rest of your life,” said Mr. Read, who was wearing an orange Virginia Tech hat and maroon “Virginia Tech Dad” sweatshirt.

The raffle originally was designed to raise money for two Virginia gun dealers being sued by New York City for illegally selling guns to undercover New York agents. Those who purchased $100 of merchandise from two Virginia gun shops were to be entered into a drawing, but Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. determined that contest to be illegal.

The Virginia Citizens Defense League then decided to give away up to 2,000 free tickets for the drawing. More than 2,500 tickets were awarded to customers who purchased merchandise during the original entry period, which ran from January to March.

“If it had gone on as originally planned … there would have been arrests made tonight,” Fairfax County spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald said.

Money generated from the raffle was to go to Bob Moates Sports Shop in Richmond and Old Dominion Gun and Tackle in Danville, two of the gun shops being sued by New York.

The gun-rights group postponed its original fundraising raffle for 30 to 60 days to sort out legal issues, league President Philip Van Cleave said.

The group plans to give away an additional 2,000 free tickets for a raffle of two guns identical to the ones given away last night, as well as two additional firearms, Mr. Van Cleave said.

Though last night’s event did not raise money as originally planned, Mr. Van Cleave said, the event still is sending a message.

“This is a political message to New York: If you come into Virginia and you think there are crimes … do not go around Virginia government,” he said.

Mr. Van Cleave said the gun dealers complied with the law.

“If you can show me that these dealers are intentionally breaking the law, I’m all for enforcement,” he said.

Despite fierce public opposition and legal questions raised by Fairfax County officials and state prosecutors, the gun-rights group contends that it has complied with Virginia law.

Mr. Van Cleave said efforts to stop the event backfired.

“It only made gun owners more galvanized,” he said.

But members of the Million Mom March and other anti-gun activists also were galvanized.

They stood quietly outside the center in an area cordoned off by police tape.

Some held signs that read “Thank you Mayor Bloomberg” and “Never forget Cho,” referring to Seung-hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter from Centreville.

Mr. Van Cleave said the right to own a gun is necessary for self-defense and that some of the deaths could have been prevented had Virginia Tech students been allowed to carry concealed handguns.

“Criminals are going to get their hands on guns anyhow,” he said. “What you want to control now is criminals. The guns are a tool. People need to be able to protect themselves.”

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