Thursday, July 15, 2004

Leave it to the Old Dominion lawmakers, or should we say to the East Coast gun-toters of the Wild West.

In them thar hillbilly hills and suburban highways, law-abiding Virginians can carry a six-shooter openly in a hip holster or conceal a weapon in a designer purse, but they better not be caught toting a concealed machete.

Go figure. Which is worse while your family is dining on a “Grand Slam” breakfast at Denny’s — sitting next to Quick Draw McGraw or Zorro? Well, the Virginia legislature obviously thinks that a machete is more dangerous than a firearm or an assault weapon. Why else would they have made it illegal, as of July 1, to carry a concealed machete, but barred local jurisdictions from enacting any legislation or ordinances limiting laws concerning concealed weapons or “open carry” options.

“That’s a Virginia law for you,” said Suzie Robinson of Richmond, state counsel chairwoman of the “Million Moms March.”

Mrs. Robinson, who has a 12-year-old boy, was reacting to a scary story in the Other Paper about a terrible summertime trend in the Old Dominion of folks “exercising their right” to carry guns openly.

“I have a right to do a lot of things, but common sense tells me not to,” Mrs. Robinson said.

In a strange show of support, a few Virginia folks have been strapping on their six-shooters and parading them in public after word went out last month that two gun-totting county students had been erroneously charged.

The Fairfax County officer who apparently was unaware of the open-carry laws that have been on the books for decades apologized and returned the weapons.

Then, others have deliberately followed suit. One was spotted at a Starbucks, of all places. I know those high-priced coffee lattes are highway robbery, but c’mon.

Can you imagine the additional problems and danger this craziness is presenting, especially for county officers but also for residents? Don’t law enforcement officers already have enough trouble discerning the good guys from the bad guys in a quick-draw second?

However, Sgt. Richard Perez, a spokesman for the Fairfax County police, said, “You’re not going to get me to tell you that [the open-carry law] presents a problem for our officers.”

Sgt. Perez said the officers are trained to deal with stressful situations and they will investigate each complaint in the manner in which they were trained. After all, they are proud of the part that the department has played in ensuring that Fairfax County has one of the lowest crime rates for a county of its size in the country.

Fine. I wonder how long that’s going to last if folks have a mind to take the law in their own hands because they are carrying a gun on their hip? Doesn’t the county have a growing gang problem? Are guns or machetes really their preferred weapon of choice? Mrs. Robinson is “shocked but not really surprised” by these latest incidents because “you see people carrying weapons in the General Assembly [and] where’s the real danger there?” Last year she became “horribly alarmed” and uncomfortable when a man wearing a gun walked into a concert hall in colonial Yorktown while her son was practicing with a high school drum and fife corps.

What really concerns Mrs. Robinson and an army of gun-control activists is the impending sunset of the federal assault-weapons ban. If the ban expires Sept. 13 as expected, there’s a very real possibility in Virginia that someone “can put a Tech 9 in a holster and carry it around.” The Tech 9, she noted, was the weapon of choice for one of the shooters in the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado.

Mrs. Robinson said that while he was campaigning, President Bush said he would renew the assault-weapons ban. “We are waiting for him to step up to it,” she said. Yesterday, she was busy sending e-mail to “Million Mom March” chapter leaders asking them to go to local malls, shopping centers and stores and get the owners to put up signs prohibiting weapons that are openly carried.

“Businesses have that right, and frankly, I absolutely will not patronize a store where someone has a weapon strapped on their hip,” Mrs. Robinson said. “There’s a far greater chance of someone being caught in the crossfire than of being able to defend themselves.” Mrs. Robinson pointed out that “there are plenty of studies that show that people who carry weapons for self-defense are far less likely to use it for self-defense than to be injured.” Like the 85 percent of Americans polled, she is for “reasonable gun control,” but “unfettered access to a weapon is never a good thing.” Her organization, along with Virginians for Handgun Control and Virginians for Public Safety, plans to lobby the next General Assembly for a ban on unlicensed dealers selling guns at gun shows.

But they are not planning to lobby against the open-carry or concealed-weapons laws that allow Virginians to act like cowboys in the Wild West.

“Unfortunately, Virginia is a whole different bowl of marbles,” she said.

Deadly unfortunate, indeed.

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