Thursday, December 23, 2004

A new restriction in Virginia that bars anyone without a concealed-weapons permit from openly carrying weapons into the state Capitol in Richmond will not be reversed, said a senior Republican state lawmaker who helped pass the ban earlier this year.

Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle said even though he supports Second Amendment rights, he views it as a safety issue and doesn’t want the ban lifted. The Virginia Beach Republican is on the 14-member Joint Rules Committee, which passed the ban without fanfare in March. The ban took effect in April.

“Somebody can walk up to the front door with a loaded shotgun, not just a handgun, hand it to the Capitol Police officer, go through the metal detector and the Capitol Police officer has to hand it back to the guy coming through the front door,” Mr. Stolle said on Dec. 17. “That’s ridiculous. That’s not safe for the citizens that come see us, it’s not safe for the Capitol or for the legislators.”

Mr. Stolle said the same scenario would apply for assault rifles, such as an AK-47 or M-16. He said the restriction that Virginia Capitol Police asked lawmakers to put in place is “fair” and “responsible.”

Any bills proposing to overturn the ban would have to go through the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, where Mr. Stolle serves as chairman.

The new ban went unnoticed by many lawmakers and gun-rights advocates for months because the measure was not subject to a vote by the full legislature.

Gun-rights advocates are furious over the ban — which specifically states that persons must hold a concealed-weapons permit if they want to carry a weapon either openly or concealed into the Capitol or the General Assembly building, which is on the grounds of the Capitol.

In Virginia, a permit is required to conceal a handgun on one’s person, not to own a handgun or carry it openly.

An estimated 112,000 Virginians hold such permits, so the new ban would restrict many from openly carrying weapons into the Capitol and the General Assembly building. Statistics show that permit holders rarely commit violent crimes.

Mike Stollenwerk, a Fairfax County resident who owns a gun, said the new restriction might encourage some gun owners to challenge it by carrying openly more frequently.

“Has anyone in the history of this country ever carried an AK-47 into the General Assembly? It’s ridiculous,” Mr. Stollenwerk said.

He criticized the committee for approving the restriction without holding a debate on the issue. He said those who want to bring weapons into the Capitol during the legislative session don’t have time to apply for a concealed-carry permit.

The session begins Jan. 12.

An incident that occurred earlier this year before Mr. Stolle’s Courts of Justice Committee might have sparked sentiment for putting a ban into place.

Jim Sollo of Virginians Against Handgun Violence said that during a hearing, a gun owner held up his shirt to reveal a concealed weapon, seemingly in an attempt to make a point while testifying about a gun-related bill. Several others who were present for the hearing confirmed the event took place.

“The only purpose of that was intimidation,” Mr. Sollo said.

Mr. Stolle could not be reached for comment on whether that incident influenced his sentiment on allowing guns in the Capitol.

Mr. Sollo applauded the ban.

“When you are arguing public policy, and you’ve got people there with guns, it’s a scary situation, and it can be intimidating,” Mr. Sollo said. “In the Capitol, people get excited and tempers flare, and if you have armed people there, that’s just not a good idea.”

The gun-rights group Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) has started a lobbying campaign to reverse the ban.

Philip Van Cleave, president of VCDL, is confident the group will succeed. “This new ban needs to be rescinded as soon as possible,” he said.

Gun-rights advocates fear the Richmond ban will extend into public buildings in other parts of the state, including Fairfax County.

Mr. Sollo’s group supports extending the ban to all public buildings. “Our concern is that the more people you have carrying guns around, the more likely you will have a tragedy,” he said.

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