Weapons Giveaway Might Be Illegal

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 16, 2007

RICHMOND, May 15 -- Fairfax County Attorney David P. Bobzien and prosecutors have concluded that it might be illegal for a gun-rights group to raffle off weapons and ammunition inside a county building Thursday night in Annandale, according to an e-mail obtained Tuesday.

Bobzien's opinion throws into doubt whether the Virginia Citizens Defense League will be able to go through with its plans for a "Bloomberg Gun Giveaway," which is designed to protest the effort by New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (R) to crack down on illegal gun sales in Virginia. Bloomberg maintains that illegal gun sales in Virginia contribute to violent crime in New York.

Fairfax County officials and prosecutors, responding to a public outcry over the raffle at the Mason District Government Center, are trying to determine whether the drawing violates state gaming laws.

In an e-mail sent Tuesday to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and senior staff members, Bobzien said he discussed the raffle with Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. that morning.

"I advised Bob that we had concluded that it would be illegal but that, of course, it was up to the Commonwealth's Attorney's to make that call," Bobzien wrote. The e-mail was obtained from a government source who had received it but asked not to be identified because the e-mail was marked confidential.

Horan did not return phone messages Tuesday, but Bobzien said in the e-mail that Horan called him back to say he also concluded that it was illegal. Bobzien wrote that Horan was sending police to meet with the gun group to "to put them on notice."

The raffle, designed to raise money for two Virginia gun dealers being sued by the City of New York, has drawn international attention to Virginia's gun laws. New York has filed lawsuits against six Virginia gun shops that the city contends sold guns illegally to undercover agents.

Passions are strong. Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason), who has been trying to stop the drawing, said a man with a gun holstered on his hip startled her staff when he showed up at her office Monday demanding to talk about her opposition to the raffle. Such gun-toting is legal in Virginia.

"That is how crazy it is getting: People openly carrying weapons will come to my office demanding to see me," Gross said. "It is an intimidating tactic, and I don't have to see them."

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said he has not heard from Fairfax officials. As of Tuesday night, Van Cleave said the event will go on as scheduled at 7:30 p.m.

"Someone needs to show us it's illegal. There needs to be some kind of proof," Van Cleave said. "Surely, Fairfax has got more important things pressing to worry about."

Fairfax County spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald declined to comment on Bobzien's e-mail, citing attorney-client privilege. But she said, "The definition of a raffle that would constitute illegal gambling is quite clear."

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