- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

The erroneous arrest of two college students who were legally carrying guns in holsters in Fairfax County has galvanized Virginia’s pro-gun lobby and gun-control activists.

The Virginia Citizens Defense League, a pro-gun group, said it has drawn more than $600 in unsolicited donations, including $5 from a Marine lieutenant serving in Iraq, in response to the June 14 arrest.

“The incident at Starbucks sent off fireworks everywhere,” said Philip Van Cleave, president of Virginia Citizens Defense League. “That changed everything. The police went way over the edge, and that woke up a whole lot of people.”

Meanwhile, Virginians for Public Safety, a gun-control group, said it has mobilized volunteers in response to the same incident.

“Most people really didn’t realize it was legal to walk around with a loaded gun,” said Bob Ricker, the group’s executive director. “That’s what has surprised and motivated many people. This very definitely will become a motivating issue and cause people to open their checkbooks.”

Mr. Ricker said his group recruited 1,000 persons who want to ban guns in places that serve alcohol. Virginia law allows people to carry weapons in holsters into places that serve alcohol. However, the state does not allow people to carry weapons concealed in such places.

Virginia Citizens Defense League also recruited nearly 50 new members at a weekend gun show in Fairfax County. The show was the first for the county in decades and the first since the General Assembly shortened the local waiting period to purchase from gun shows. The show brought gun enthusiasts from all over the country.

The issue of open carrying generated press attention in June, when a Fairfax County police officer confiscated the handguns legally worn by two college students at a Starbucks near Tysons Corner.

The officer returned the guns to the students the next day and did not file charges against them once he realized his mistake, said Fairfax County Police Sgt. Richard Perez.

Sgt. Perez said the department used the incident to educate officers about the state law.

In Virginia, a permit is required to conceal a handgun on one’s person, not to own a handgun or carry it openly. More than 20 states — including West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Delaware — have similar open-carry laws. It is illegal to carry handguns openly in Maryland and the District.

New volunteers and donations are key for both pro-gun and gun-control groups that will help their candidates win in November 2005, when all 100 House delegates are up for re-election.

Mr. Ricker’s group plans to target pro-gun lawmakers, particularly conservative Republican Delegates Timothy D. Hugo of Fairfax County and Jeffrey M. Frederick of Prince William County. Mr. Ricker said any donations will help his group finance anti-gun candidates to challenge both incumbents.

Mr. Frederick, who was elected last November, said yesterday he believes that residents should have the right to protect themselves from criminals. “It’s common sense to let single mothers be able to defend their families,” he said.

Mr. Van Cleave said his group will ensure “friends” like Mr. Hugo and Mr. Frederick are re-elected in 2005. He also praised Marine Lt. Matthew Boris, who is not from Virginia, for his $5 donation.

“It was only for $5, but it may as well have been for $50,000, as far as I am concerned,” he said. “He is laying his life on the line for us, yet he wants to thank us for getting the police to drop the charges against those students in Starbucks.”

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