Gun Flap Reflects A Clash of Cultures

At Blue Ridge Arsenal in Chantilly, customer Will McCool, left, is shown a laser sight by sales rep Mark Warner.
At Blue Ridge Arsenal in Chantilly, customer Will McCool, left, is shown a laser sight by sales rep Mark Warner. (Photos By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
By Fredrick Kunkle and Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 17, 2007

Robert Moates has New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's picture hanging on a gun rack in one of his stores near Richmond. Next to it is a picture of himself.

An employee in Bob Moates Sport Shop put up the pictures to symbolize the showdown over gun sales that Moates likens to David vs. Goliath, big-city mayor vs. small-town businessman, town vs. country, North vs. South.

"I don't think he really understands. And I don't think he's capable of understanding, because he's never grown up in a society of hunting and fishing where firearms are used every day," Moates said of Bloomberg.

Gun owners have rallied around Moates, and the conflict will come to a head in a Fairfax County-owned building tonight, when those supporters hold a raffle to help Moates in his fight against Bloomberg. For the gun owners, the showdown is about a way of life they see as increasingly under attack.

"We are trying to send a message back to Bloomberg that gun ownership is a proud part of Virginia heritage," said Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, which organized the raffle. Through a spokesman, Bloomberg declined to comment.

It all began last year when Bloomberg's office traced guns used in New York street crimes back to firearms stores in Virginia and other states. New York City filed lawsuits against 27 gun dealers in five states, including seven stores in Virginia, saying that the stores allowed straw purchases. Straw purchases occur when a person who is entitled to purchase a firearm obtains the weapon with the intent of giving it to someone who is barred by law from owning firearms.

Members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, which was formed in Fairfax County years ago and meets regularly in a public building in the Mason district, decided in January to organize a raffle designed to drive business into Moates's store and Old Dominion Guns & Tackle Inc. in Danville, which are defending themselves against the city's lawsuit. And the "Bloomberg Gun GiveAway" was born.

The event was postponed for a month because it was originally scheduled for April 19, three days after 32 people were fatally shot at Virginia Tech, said Van Cleave, whose s group gained nationwide attention recently by carrying sidearms into Northern Virginia bars and restaurants as a way to defend the state's "open carry" law.

Now, as media inquiries come in from around the world about the giveaway, and as Fairfax County has stepped in to halt it, the group has defiantly found a way to go ahead.

Initially, the lottery worked like this: For every $100 that customers spent at Moates's shop or Old Dominion, they received a lottery ticket to win a $1,000 firearm or other prizes, including firearm accessories and a $1,000 Weber gas grill. About 2,500 tickets were given out by the two establishments, and the drawing was set for tonight.

But yesterday, Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. and county officials warned the league that the raffle was illegal. According to Virginia law, illegal gambling is defined as "any bet or wager . . . of money or other thing of value made in exchange for a chance to win a prize."

To get around the law, Van Cleave said the group will again postpone the original raffle and instead hold a separate drawing tonight in which people will be given free tickets for door prizes that include guns.

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