- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 9, 2002

RICHMOND The Virginia General Assembly yesterday passed legislation that would bar localities from banning guns in public facilities, a measure aimed at a 1995 Alexandria, Va., regulation.

The bill now goes to Gov. Mark R. Warner, who declined to answer questions about his position on the measure during a bill-signing ceremony yesterday, saying it would be "inappropriate" for him to comment before he has had a chance to review it.

The Senate approved the bill 26-13, with one senator not voting; the House passed it 68-26, with six delegates not voting.

Supporters of the bill say it is needed to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens, particularly those with concealed-weapons permits, from local governments.

"The public does have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms," Sen. Emmet W. Hanger Jr., the bill's sponsor, said on the Senate floor. "Our primary concern is with those who do not obey the law."

Mr. Hanger said the state needs uniform gun laws, and the Alexandria regulation could have been the first of many in a patchwork of restrictions.

If it becomes law, the bill would prohibit localities, such as Alexandria, from banning guns in public places. City managers and local elected bodies would not be able to impose a ban through written regulations or ordinances.

The measure will be a delicate one for Mr. Warner, who risks upsetting the gun rights voters he courted during the campaign and angering fellow Democrats.

Ed Matricardi, executive director of the Virginia Republican Party, said Mr. Warner would suffer "a political backlash" from gun rights advocates if he vetoes the measure.

"It's gut-check time, and we are going to find out who the real Mark Warner is real fast," Mr. Matricardi said.

During the governor's race last year, Mr. Warner actively sought the support of gun-rights groups. In a meeting with National Rifle Association leaders, he said he would not would not sign any new gun restrictions, except for prohibiting guns in recreation centers. The NRA did not endorse either Mr. Warner or his Republican opponent, Mark L. Earley, which helped Mr. Warner claim victory.

Sen. Patricia S. Ticer, an Alexandria Democrat and strong supporter of the governor, said Mr. Warner could see retribution from within his own party, especially from Northern Virginia lawmakers, if he signs the bill.

"I don't think he should sign it," Mrs. Ticer said.

She said the bill gives the state too much power to tell localities how to conduct their business.

"They should have the right to make their own rules and regulations," she said, noting that the Alexandria ban was not an ordinance but a regulation passed down from the city manager.

The bill clarifies a 1987 law that says local governments cannot ban or limit guns being carried into private businesses or homes.

Fairfax County had an ordinance that banned bringing guns into its facilities. In May 1997, Attorney General James S. Gilmore III found that Fairfax had the power to limit who can bring guns onto county-owned property.

"Fairfax County may, either by ordinance or administrative regulation, prohibit a person from possessing a dangerous weapon, other than a firearm or a gun, in a local facility or police station," Mr. Gilmore wrote in his opinion. That ordinance was struck down in December 1997 as a violation of state law.

Another Alexandria Democrat, Delegate Brian J. Moran, said he doesn't want to see the bill become law.

"I would hope that [Mr. Warner] reviews this skeptically and with a veto in mind," Mr. Moran said.

Mr. Hanger, Augusta Republican, said Mr. Warner could face some political heat if he decides to veto the bill.

"There will be a certain constituency within the state that will be upset," Mr. Hanger said. "It's a litmus-test kind of thing."

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