Guns Worn In Open Legal, But Alarm Va.
But the second paragraph of the law defines firearms only as any semiautomatic weapon that holds more than 20 rounds or a shotgun that holds more than seven rounds -- assault rifles, mostly, Van Cleave said. Regular six-shooters or pistols with nine- or 10-shot magazines are not "firearms" under this Virginia law.
The day after the arrest, the officer consulted with a county prosecutor and determined that "he had erred," Perez said. He summoned the two men to the McLean District station, returned their weapons and dropped the charges.
Van Cleave said word of the incident, along with news of a similar incident in Richmond, spread through the defense league's e-mail alert system. "I think people were saying, 'I think I do want to open carry,' " Van Cleave said, though he added the league neither encourages nor discourages the practice.
Carrying weapons openly was not unprecedented locally, Van Cleave said. He said that the defense league has a monthly meeting in Northern Virginia with 25 to 30 members and that most go out to dinner afterward with their sidearms openly visible. "We've had 40 people open carry, in a restaurant, with no problem," he said.
Three days after the incident at Champps, a married couple were walking their dogs down Market Street, the busy thoroughfare in the heart of Reston Town Center, about 3 p.m. In addition to pistols on their hips, Perez said, both the man and woman were carrying an extra magazine of ammunition. An officer spoke with them and was informed that they were members of the defense league and were aware of the Starbucks incident. Perez said the officer took no further action, although Van Cleave said a lieutenant arrived and urged Town Center security to eject them.
Managers at the Starbucks, Champps and Town Center all declined to comment.
Van Cleave said the gun owners might have been out celebrating a law that took effect July 1. Virginia statute 15.2-915 now completely prohibits any locality from enacting any regulations on gun ownership, carrying, storage or purchase, except for rules related to the workforce. Alexandria, for example, had an ordinance prohibiting openly carrying guns. It is now invalid, Van Cleave said.
"It's like the Fourth of July," Van Cleave said. "A whole new set of freedoms came in. . . . All local gun control is completely and totally gone."
Legislators said they passed the bill to eliminate duplicative regulations, particularly in counties such as Fairfax, which imposed its own gun permit process in addition to the federally mandated background check.
Openly carrying weapons is "not a good idea," said Kristen Rand of the Violence Policy Center in Washington. "This is the gun lobby's vision of how America should be. Everybody's packing heat and ready to engage in a shootout at the slightest provocation."
Ricker said the gun owners "are probably doing their cause more harm than good by raising this issue. It raises an awareness and gives people who are more rational thinkers the opportunity to go to their legislators and make their views known."
Van Cleave said most gun owners, particularly defense league members or concealed weapon permit owners, are law-abiding. Anti-gun forces "have come to think guns themselves are evil. You've got to worry about the person, not the gun."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company