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Kaine Criticizes Weapons Giveaway

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By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 15, 2007

RICHMOND, May 14 -- Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) on Monday questioned the judgment of a gun-rights group in deciding to raffle off weapons and ammunition this week inside a Fairfax County government building.

"I guess it's a free country, and people can make mistakes in judgment all the time," Kaine said. "When I read about a group doing this, it just makes me wonder what makes them tick."

The Virginia Citizens Defense League, a group influential with rural lawmakers, is holding a "Bloomberg Gun Giveaway" to protest New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's efforts to crack down on illegal gun sales in Virginia.

The raffle Thursday night at the Mason District Government Center in Annandale has angered Fairfax County officials and heightened attention on Virginia's gun laws a month after a 23-year-old college student from Fairfax fatally shot 32 people and himself at Virginia Tech.

Although Kaine said the gun group showed poor judgment, Virginia's top elected Republican leaders defended the gun giveaway Monday, saying the group is defending the right to own firearms and sending a message that Bloomberg should stay out of the state's affairs.

"It is not the place for government to interfere with a private raffle," Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell (R) said through a spokesman.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) said gun control advocates frequently use government property to hold gun buyback events.

"The same thing happens with groups on the left when they do programs to have guns turned in for prizes or rewards," Griffith said. In this case, he said, "you got law-abiding citizens holding a raffle or contest to give away a product that doesn't violate state or federal laws."

The defense league plans to give away a semiautomatic pistol, a hunting rifle, ammunition and other supplies, including a laser scope. Fairfax County officials said they don't want guns inside a county building, but they can't find a legal reason to deny the group a permit.

The raffle was spurred by New York's decision to file lawsuits against six Virginia gun shops that the city contends sold guns illegally to undercover agents. Bloomberg maintains that illegal guns sales in Virginia contribute to violent crime in New York.

The General Assembly and Kaine approved a law this spring that will make it a felony for New York to conduct future stings in the state without the supervision of Virginia or federal law enforcement officials.

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said more than 2,500 people were awarded tickets to Thursday night's drawing after they spent at least $100 at Bob Moates Sports Shop in Richmond and Old Dominion Gun and Tackle in Danville, the targets of Bloomberg's lawsuits.

Van Cleave said he doesn't understand why Kaine and Fairfax officials are upset.

"They are acting like we are giving guns to criminals. They talk as if anytime a gun is sold, it's going on the street," Van Cleave said. "These guns are going to law-abiding, decent people who won't hurt anyone with them."

In addition to McDonnell, Van Cleave has the backing of the state's other top elected Republican, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. Like McDonnell, Bolling is a possible candidate for governor in 2009.

"The VCDL is doing this as a form of protest against the actions taken by Mayor Bloomberg," Bolling said. "They have every right to lodge such a protest as long as they comply with the letter and the spirit of the law."

Fairfax Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason) said she has received dozens of phone calls and e-mails from residents who are appalled that the raffle is taking place in a county building.

Fairfax has asked the General Assembly to allow it and other local governments to ban the possession of guns in public buildings, but lawmakers have refused. County officials can't deny a meeting permit simply for political reasons, Gross said.

"I agree with the governor. It is wrong, but help me find a way to put a stop to it," Gross said. "There is none. I tried."


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