- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 23, 2002

Virginia's highly touted gun-deterrent program, Project Exile, may be saved from the budget knife, a spokeswoman for Gov. Mark R. Warner said this week.
"Its not that big a chunk of change that we are talking about here, so we are looking into it," said Ellen Qualls, Mr. Warner's press secretary.
The program calls for strict, mandatory sentences for felons caught carrying a weapon. The program costs $1.25 million, which comes from the state budget, and 10 jurisdictions take part. The money goes toward the salary of an attorney who works out of the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office and deals with gun-related crime.
A felon caught with a firearm is automatically sentenced to either two or five years in jail, depending on whether the conviction was for a violent or nonviolent crime. It also imposes a minimum five-year sentence for bringing a gun onto school property or possessing a gun while in the possession of drugs.
Richmond pioneered the joint federal-local program in 1997, dramatically reducing crime there.
Bob Crouch, chief deputy secretary for public safety, said that his office has heard from a number of the Commonwealth's attorneys and that he is hopeful that funding will be restored.
"We are quite concerned about the program, and we are very supportive of [the Commonwealths attorneys] efforts and will try to keep it going," he said.
Mr. Crouch said that while he has not spoken directly with the governor about it, the two offices have had staff-level discussions.
Without the state's $1.25 million, localities would be forced to fund the program something the attorneys who prosecute the cases say is next to impossible.
"Lynchburg is about broke," said William Petty, the Commonwealth's attorney for the city. "We are strapped [for cash] as much as we can be. … Without the state funds, it will go down the tubes."
But not all jurisdictions that have signed on are taking advantage of the program.
"The federal program was already in place, and there is no need to have two people doing the job of one," said Louis Tayon, the deputy chief of police for Chesapeake, Va. "I'm not really sure why they did it."
Earle Mobley, the Commonwealth's attorney for the city of Portsmouth, Va., said the program is needed.
Mr. Mobley was a prosecutor in Portsmouth 10 years ago and said there is a marked difference between then and now.
"Things are so much more specialized now; you have a person who just focuses on one case dealing with guns and that makes a huge difference," Mr. Mobley said. "When I was a prosecutor, we had a mish-mash of cases."
Project Exile has been in the news recently because a Web site, WorldNetDaily.com, broke a story Thursday saying that Mr. Warner, a Democrat, had ordered all the signs touting the program that appeared on highways, as well as the bumper stickers on police cars, removed because they contained the name of his Republican predecessor, Gov. James S. Gilmore III.
"It sounds like it is a little petty," said Ed Matricardi, executive director of the Virginia Republican Party. "The better answer would have been to put a patch over the disclaimer-size name, or just replace Gilmore's name with Warner's."
Officials with the Virginia Department of Transportation say the removal was about aesthetics, not partisanship.
"The commissioner did not like them, and he had them taken down," said VDOT spokeswoman Joan Morris.
Mr. Petty said he hopes the governor and the legislature re-evaluate their priorities.
"We have all this talk and financing of anti-terrorism legislation," he said. "But the reality of it is that the real threat to the common citizen here in Lynchburg is some thug coming up and putting a gun to their head. It is not a terrorist dropping from the sky onto City Hall. That part of public safety has been forgotten."

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