A Jan. 18 story incorrectly quoted David F. Whitt of Springfield as saying his son was accidentally shot to death by a young man who was "pretending to be a cowboy." The story also said the incident occurred in the kitchen of a Newington town house; it took place in the living room. (Published 2/1/91)
RICHMOND, JAN. 17 -- Dottie Whitt, of Springfield, clutched a framed color photograph of a son killed by an accidental gunshot, as her husband, Navy Cmdr. David F. Whitt, said, "We weren't here last year, and if this bill had been passed, we might not be standing here today."
The Whitts came to the Capitol today in support of a bill that would make it a crime "to recklessly store or leave a loaded firearm so as to endanger the life or limb of any child under 15."
Similar legislation, sponsored by Sen. Moody E. (Sonny) Stallings Jr. (D-Virginia Beach), was allowed to expire in a conference committee last March after opponents loaded the bill down with amendments that made it unacceptable to Stallings.
Since then, Stallings said today, a 5-year-old, a 9-year-old and eight teenagers have died of accidental gunshot wounds in the state.
The Whitts' son, Lance, 20, was shot to death last Sept. 19 while eating a luncheon pizza in a Newington town house, where he had stopped to visit friends between classes at Northern Virginia Community College.
David Whitt said one of the four young men who shared the town house carried a .22-caliber pistol, owned by one of the others, into the kitchen, and, while "pretending to be a cowboy," pulled the trigger several times while pointing the gun toward the ceiling. Then he lowered it to the arm of a chair and pulled the trigger again, and the single bullet in the chamber ripped through Lance Whitt's heart, Whitt said.
While their son was older than the children that Stallings's bill seeks to protect, the Whitts said they believe passage of any law that puts a burden on gun owners to be responsible for their weapons would save lives, regardless of age restrictions such a the law.
Stallings said he initially thought that the people most likely to be punished by such a law would be the already-suffering parents of children who were accidentally killed.
But he said studies show that careless gun owners are more likely to be neighbors or relatives who are not used to having children around their house.
Another proposal designed to make it more difficult for criminals or other undesirables to get guns would require a waiting period before a gun could be bought.
Also introduced was a bill that would extend the reach of a law enacted last year that would require an instant background check of would-be owners of all handguns.
About 90 percent of such weapons are covered by the existing law, which applies to guns with barrels less than five inches long.
Del. Gladys B. Keating (D-Franconia), who heads the House Committee on Militia and Police, said the instant check has resulted in the arrest of more than 100 would-be gun buyers on felony charges, including a woman who was wanted for murder in another state, and 75 convictions.
Keating has introduced a bill to prohibit the resale of firearms to felons and make it illegal to transport certain firearms outside the state.
Abortion, another emotional issue that annually draws sharp battle lines, got short shrift today when the Senate Education and Health Committee defeated by voice vote a bill that would require girls under 18 to get the consent of a parent before getting an abortion.
The issue is not dead yet, however, as a similar measure is pending in the House of Delegates, which traditionally has looked more favorably on antiabortion measures.