Late morning near Ashland, the shopping crowd of mostly middle-age white men is poring over the wares at Green Top Sporting Goods. Although it is only late July, hunting season looms, and buyers are checking guns and rifles of all types and sizes. Also on display are scores of handguns, mostly automatics, in glass cases. In the corner behind the counter are assault-style, semi-automatic rifles in evil-looking metal and plastic.
In one aisle, a boy of about 13 picks up a bolt-action hunting rifle with a scope. “Look dad,” he says. “This one can go to 1,000 yards,” he says.
Green Top, with its familiar green-roofed building on U.S. 1 just north of Richmond, has been a landmark since 1947. Later this year, though, the store will move about a mile away to a big box formerly occupied by Gander Mountain Co. Both sites are not far from another big gun dealer, Bass Pro Shops.
The two chain stores are noteworthy these days. James Holmes, who allegedly shot and killed 12 and wounded 59 in a mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater, bought his weapons at outlets of Gander Mountain and Bass Pro Shops.
At Gander Mountain, Holmes picked up a Smith and Wesson .233 semi-automatic rifle and a .40 caliber Glock handgun. At Bass Pro Shops, he got a Remington shotgun and another Glock handgun. He allegedly carried three firearms, along with bullets he bought on the Internet, into a midnight showing of “Dark Knight Rises” while wearing bizarre, combat-looking regalia.
In Virginia, with its many square miles of excellent hunting land, the gun culture is very strong. Still, the Colorado killings are drawing strangely little comment here. It’s even stranger to realize that the theater killings still don’t match the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, which ended with the shooter and 32 others dead.
The Virginia Tech terror lurked in the background on Feb. 28, when Gov. Robert F. McDonnell signed into law a repeal of 1993 statute that limited the purchase of more than one handgun every 30 days. The law had been a signature bill for former Gov. Doug Wilder, who was incensed that Virginia had been funneling illegal firearms into large northern cities.
Conservative forces and Second Amendment activists had lobbied for years to get rid of the ban. Families of Virginia Tech victims begged McDonnell not to go along with the General Assembly. Before McDonnell signed the repeal into law, his staff dutifully alerted reporters. But the usually talkative McDonnell made no statement. As is the case now, the silence was maintained.