Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Heated Debate over Gun Laws

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A great deal of both heat and light were generated in the 2010 General Assembly by proposed changes in the commonwealth’s gun laws. Of the four bills passed in the House of Delegates, two of them await the governor’s signature.

One failed proposal, House Bill 854, “Encodes a version of the ‘castle doctrine,’ [as in, “your home is your castle”] allowing the use of physical force, including deadly force, against an intruder in his dwelling who has committed an overt act against him, without civil liability.”

The Senate killed the bill in committee by “indefinitely” passing it by, refusing to act on it before the legislative session was over.

House Bill 49 sought to repeal the one handgun purchase a month law, enacted in the 1990s to hamper the trade in Virginia handguns bought by straw purchasers, then traded for money and drugs to criminals along the Eastern seaboard. It languished in the Senate Courts of Law Committee and died at the end of the session.

The two bills passed in both houses were the so-called “cars and bars” bills. House Bill 885 allows a driver with no concealment permit to keep a loaded handgun in a locked compartment in his or her vehicle, while House Bill 505 allows those with concealment permits to carry weapons into restaurants which serve alcohol. Of the two, it was the “bars” bill which aroused the most fervent opposition.

But David Rittgers, a legal policy analyst with the Cato Institute, says so far, such liberalization of gun laws in other states has yet to turn the neighborhood steakhouse into the OK Corral.

“Out of the 48 states that have some sort of a concealed-handgun-permitting regime, only nine put restrictions on restaurants that serve alcohol. The rest of these states have not seen the sky fall; they have not seen drunken scuffles turn into gunfights. So the argument that this is somehow an irresponsible legislative move just doesn’t hold water.”

Rittgers adds that Virginia is already an “open carry” commonwealth, one in which localities are prohibited from making their own ordinances that would prevent law-abiding citizens from having weapons in plain sight.

Concerning the “cars” bill, Rittgers says many drivers don’t have locking compartments in their vehicles anyway.

“I really think people would be best-advised to just get a concealed handgun permit. This would additionally provide extra training and an education on the law, in terms of self-defense.”

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence was repeatedly contacted for this story, but as of production time had not been able to schedule an interview. We will continue trying to get their response and hope to present it sometime in the future.

-Mark Dorroh

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