- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Gun-rights advocates want to change a new state regulation approved by senior Virginia lawmakers without fanfare that bars anyone without a concealed-weapons permit from openly carrying weapons into the state Capitol in Richmond.

The restriction, approved by the Joint Rules Committee earlier this spring, went unnoticed by many for months because the measure was not subject to a vote by the full legislature.

Advocates such as the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) yesterday called the committee’s action a “stealth” change that could lead to a restriction of Second Amendment rights in local jurisdictions such as Fairfax County.

“It’s wrongheaded,” said Philip Van Cleave, president of VCDL, which began a lobbying campaign to reverse the ban. “It’s one more thing that doesn’t need to be done against a right we have. They are needlessly impeding that and it’s wrong. This new ban needs to be rescinded as soon as possible.”

Mr. Van Cleave said people who are forced to leave their guns in their cars when visiting the Capitol will not be safe in Richmond, which has a high crime rate.

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.

Statistics show that permit holders rarely commit violent crimes.

Each year, the 14-member Joint Rules Committee approves rules for conduct that regulate items such as parking on the Capitol grounds and security procedures. The rules must pass the committee but are not subject to a vote by the full legislature.

The committee approved the regulation during the General Assembly session last spring after Virginia Capitol Police lobbied for the change. The restriction, which also bans people from carrying guns into the General Assembly Building in Richmond, took effect April 1.

Capitol Police Maj. Mike Jones said the safety precaution is needed because the Capitol has many visitors who mingle with the governor and the lawmakers.

“We’re not trying to prohibit the legal carrying of any legal weapon,” Maj. Jones said. “We’re trying to know where the weapons are in the Capitol and to prohibit anyone who doesn’t have the authority or the legal basis from bringing one in into the crowd.”

Maj. Jones said weapons can fire accidentally or can be left behind inadvertently. “We don’t want a child finding one,” he said. “That’s kind of scary.”

Gun owners who visit the Capitol now must check in with police and show their valid permits. All visitors must walk through a metal detector.

Some Republican lawmakers have told VCDL they will consider reversing the ban in the upcoming legislative session, which begins Jan. 12.

Mr. Van Cleave said he is confident the ban will not last, but is concerned that localities such as Fairfax County will demand similar bans in its government buildings. “It makes them look hypocritical,” he said.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, who was one of two committee members who voted against the restriction, said he thinks lawmakers were not alerted to the change partly because of the unprecedented impasse over the budget and tax increases.

“We could have done a better job of getting the word out,” the Roanoke County Republican said, noting the restriction was passed following the usual protocol. “We ought to have taken a bit more time.”

Delegate Leo C. Wardrup, Virginia Beach Republican, also voted against the measure. The committee’s final vote on the restriction could not be determined yesterday.

In 2002, a legislative committee overwhelmingly rejected a bill authored by former Delegate James F. Almand, Arlington Democrat, that would have banned all non-police weapons at the Capitol.

Gun-control advocates did not return telephone calls seeking comment for this story.

Mike Stollenwerk, a Fairfax County resident who owns a gun, said the change is elitist and bans from the Capitol all but the estimated 112,000 Virginians who hold permits.

“[It’s a] constitutional affront to the millions of Virginia citizens who own guns but do not hold … permits,” he said.

Republicans who are members of the Joint Rules Committee are: Mr. Griffith; Mr. Wardrup; House Speaker William J. Howell, of Stafford County; Delegates Vincent F. Callahan Jr., of Fairfax County; Harry J. Parrish, of Manassas; Sens. Thomas K. Norment Jr., of James City County; John H. Chichester, of Stafford County; Kenneth W. Stolle, of Virginia Beach; Frederick M. Quayle, of Chesapeake; and Senate Majority Leader Walter A. Stosch, of Henrico County.

Democrats who sit on the committee are: Delegate J. Paul Councill Jr., of Franklin; House Minority Leader Franklin P. Hall, of Richmond; Sens. Richard L. Saslaw, of Fairfax County; and Charles J. Colgan Sr., of Manassas.

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