The patrons at Champps in Reston, an upscale restaurant and bar chain, were eating ribs and drinking beer on a recent Saturday when customer Bruce Jackson stood up and made an announcement: He was armed, and so were dozens of other patrons.
The armed customers stood up in unison, showing off holstered pistols. Mr. Jackson said a word or two about the rights of gun owners to carry firearms in Virginia, then thanked everyone for his or her attention and sat down.
And the diners returned to their burgers and Budweisers.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) organized the dinner at Champps to prove a point: that the presence of armed customers in Northern Virginia restaurants would elicit little more than shrugs.
The dinner — and several other restaurant visits throughout Northern Virginia last month — were a response to comments from the majority leader in the state Senate, Democrat Richard L. Saslaw, who said during a legislative debate that armed patrons would be unwelcome in Northern Virginia restaurants.
“In most urban areas, you walk into a restaurant with a gun on your hip, they’re going to tell you to get out,” Mr. Saslaw said.
In fact, with a few exceptions, the gun owners got their meals. The group went to eight different restaurants last month — at two of them, they were asked to leave. More often than not, though, their presence failed to generate a stir.
All the restaurants were in Fairfax County, a bastion of suburbia outside Washington that is the wealthiest county in America, according to the most recent census data. It is also a place where nerves over the gun debate are still somewhat raw a year after the shootings at Virginia Tech, where 32 people were slain, including many from Northern Virginia.
The restaurants included numerous family establishments including the Fuddruckers burger chain and the McLean Family Restaurant.
“We wanted to prove not only that [Mr. Saslaw] was wrong, but we wanted to make the point that we have the right to self-defense. That’s a God-given right,” said Dave Vann, a retired D.C. police officer and VCDL member who organized the restaurant visits.
In Virginia, gun owners are allowed to carry firearms in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, as long as the restaurant permits it and they carry their weapon openly. Legislation to allow concealed weapons in restaurants serving alcohol passed the General Assembly this year, but was vetoed by Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat.
While Virginia is generally considered friendly to gun owners, it is only one of two states — along with Montana — that requires people to openly carry arms in restaurants that serve alcohol, according to the Web site opencarry.org, which promotes and monitors gun owners’ rights. Eleven states ban guns in restaurants that serve alcohol, while the rest make no distinction between open and concealed weapons.
At Champps, several patrons failed to notice that many customers were armed, even though dozens of gun-toting men and women had walked right past them.
Tomas Nolasco of Reston said he hadn’t noticed the guns and didn’t care as long as the owners weren’t drinking. (They weren’t.) His wife was a little more concerned.
“There are families in here, children in here,” Cathy Nolasco said. “It bothers me.”
Brendan Fitzgerald of Reston and his friends noticed the guns immediately. They were curious but unconcerned.
“I’m just laughing because it’s totally unnecessary in my opinion,” Mr. Fitzgerald said, pointing to one individual who not only was armed but also had several clips of ammunition attached to his belt.
“This is Reston, not Southeast,” said his friend, Nathan Dicken, contrasting the Northern Virginia suburb to a section of the District known for gun violence.