Advocates to Press Point at Eateries in April

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 21, 2008

RICHMOND, March 20 -- At least twice in recent weeks, Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw proclaimed on the Senate floor that customers who bring guns into restaurants in urban areas of the state are asked to leave.

Gun rights advocates say that's not true. To prove the Fairfax County Democrat wrong, they are planning to bring guns into restaurants in his district each Saturday in April.

"It was a crazy statement," said Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. "We're going to set the record straight."

Saslaw's comments have prompted conversations among gun-rights advocates on Web sites and blogs, many of which are promoting the April events. Some people described their own experience of bringing guns into Northern Virginia restaurants.

Thirty-four states allow customers to carry guns into restaurants that serve alcohol, according to the National Rifle Association. Maryland law allows customers to carry concealed weapons in restaurants as long as they have a permit. The District, which has the nation's most restrictive gun law, does not allow customers to bring guns into restaurants.

Members of Virginia Citizens Defense League plan to carry guns into restaurants for lunch April 5, 12 and 19 and then for dinner on April 26. Van Cleave said 80 people have signed up for the dinner.

Dave Vann of Falls Church, who organized the April events, declined to specify the restaurants for fear that someone will warn the owners.

Tom Lisk, a lobbyist for the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association, which represents about 1,100 restaurants in the state, said his group is considering alerting Fairfax restaurants so that they will not be surprised or alarmed.

"What they are planning to do is certainly legal," Lisk said, adding that "they are using restaurants to advance their political and legislative agenda."

Lawmakers debated gun control several times during the legislative session that ended last week, considering bills that would have loosened restrictions on where a person may carry or place firearms. The issue often divides legislators from urban and rural areas.

Under Virginia law, people may carry guns into any of the 6,000 restaurants in the state that serve alcohol, as long as the weapons are displayed openly and not concealed. They also are allowed to take concealed weapons into the 11,000 restaurants that do not serve alcohol, as long as they have a permit.

The House and Senate passed a bill this month that would allow people to carry concealed weapons in restaurants that serve alcohol. Gun advocates have tried to change the concealed weapon law every year since it went into effect in 1995, but this year was the first time it passed both chambers.

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