The Loudoun County branch of the NAACP held an open forum on handgun violence Monday night, prompted by recent high-profile shooting incidents across the country as well as the fatal shooting in Leesburg five months ago.

About 20 people attended the forum, which featured panelists from the National Rifle Association and the group Virginians Against Handgun Violence. An often-heated discussion centered on a range of issues, from gun control laws to the NAACP's recent decision to file a class-action lawsuit against the gun industry in an attempt to change the way firearms are distributed.

Glen Caroline, of the NRA, emphasized the need to enforce existing gun laws rather than create new ones. Jim Sollo, of Virginians Against Handgun Violence, supported new gun laws to keep firearms out of the wrong hands.

The meeting was organized to keep the issue of gun violence at the forefront of the community and to educate people about preventing shootings, said Siebert Murphy, president of the Loudoun branch of the NAACP.

He said minorities, especially young black men, have been disproportionately affected by gun violence.

"We wanted to try to let people know how we feel in the minority community about gun violence and about the issues relating to gun violence and gun control," Murphy said. "These organizations haven't heard from the people enough."

Michael Meador, of Ashburn, said he decided to attend the forum after reading about it in a local newspaper. He said he has avoided robbery by carrying a gun and is concerned that gun control advocates are trying to prevent law-abiding citizens from buying guns.

Ann Robinson, who said she owns several guns on her 270-acre farm in Leesburg, said she had hoped that concern over recent school shootings would take the evening's dialogue beyond prepared rhetoric and focus on specific solutions. But what happened was different, she said.

"I wish there was a sense of awareness that we have something we've got to solve and that something is bigger than our vested interest in seeing things our own way," Robinson said. "I don't think that there is that willingness or that concern there. I sense mostly a huge defensiveness."

Cascades Pick Is Not by the Numbers

When Don Descutner was appointed to fill a vacancy on the board of directors of the Cascades Community Association, no one questioned the choice: Descutner was acclaimed as an accomplished resident of the community.

It was the manner in which the board arrived at its choice that gave some residents pause.

When the board had a vacancy last winter, it appointed Ben Brown, the first runner-up in the December elections. When the board appointed Descutner in July to replace former board member James Leavengood, who moved out of the community, it did not choose the second runner-up--Dieter R. Meyer.

"I thought it was strange that if they're going to be awarding the vacancy to the person with the next-highest number of votes, this time they didn't do that," said Meg Copernoll, a resident and plaintiff in a long-running lawsuit against the association over assigned parking spaces.

Copernoll said she has nothing against Descutner, who will fill the remainder of Leavengood's term, which expires in the fall.

It's "just that the person who gets the appointment has a leg up in the next elections," she said.

After the votes were counted in December, the person who had the next-highest number of votes after Ben Brown was Meyer, past president of the Lowes Island Condominium and Town House Association, a subgroup of 300 people.

Descutner, who works on Scott K. York's campaign for chairman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, could not be reached for comment. Meyer also could not be reached.

Board President Suzanne Volpe and board member James Connors said that they used several criteria--not just the candidate's place, if any, in the most recent elections--in making a selection.

The board also looked at accomplishments in the community and involvement with the association's committees. Before being appointed, Descutner served on the covenants committee, which oversees the writing and enforcement of the association's rules. He was chairman for the past seven months.

"I think he's going to make a wonderful board member," Volpe said. "He's very smart, looks logically through an issue, looks at the pros and cons, is very level-headed, and all that kind of stuff."