Northern Virginia politicians of both major parties ventured to Richmond this week to talk about guns in school, an issue the two sides agree is resonating with voters in suburban races for the General Assembly.
For the second week, Del. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D-Fairfax) led the Democratic charge to close the legal loopholes permitting guns on school property in certain cases. Puller, who is running this fall for a state Senate seat, had appeared earlier at the Capitol with several other candidates from the Washington suburbs complaining about an unsuccessful Republican attempt to allow students who hunt to keep guns in their cars in school parking lots.
This week, Puller was joined by Leslie L. Byrne, a former member of the state House and Congress who is locked in a fierce battle for another Senate seat from Fairfax, and Del. A. Donald McEachin, a Richmond lawyer. The trio sought again to put a partisan spin on the issue.
"If you live in a suburban area and you want a legislator who thinks it's not that big a deal to have guns in school, then vote Republican," McEachin told reporters. "But if you think guns have no place on school property, then vote Democratic."
Not so fast, Del. James H. Dillard II (R-Fairfax) said the next day to the same press corps in the same building. Dillard, who is also in a tough race back home, said guns belong nowhere near schools, period. "The concern is heartfelt across the state," he said. "It's definitely not a partisan issue."
Dillard, a veteran legislator and retired teacher, was on the defensive for what he described as an inadvertent vote earlier this year for the hunter provision, which he and others quickly reversed on the floor of the House. And, to prove his point, Dillard was joined at his Capitol event by Pamela L. Pouchot of Yorktown, chairman of a statewide group that promotes gun-free schools.
Dillard, Pouchot said, will be "enthusiastic, dedicated and tireless" in the effort to keep firearms away from schools. Dillard said he was perturbed by Democrats making political hay with his momentary confusion on the floor and reiterated his commitment to safe schools.
Neither side expects the gun loopholes to make or break any legislative campaign Nov. 2, but both think the issue has enough traction with voters to keep talking about it.
Republicans even sent their party's executive director and press secretary to the Puller-Byrne event; Democrats followed suit with the next day, sending their executive director to Dillard's news conference.
"Jim Dillard is a day late and a dollar short on this issue," said Eileen Filler-Corn, Dillard's Democratic challenger. "His proposal truly is 'Loophole Lite.' "
Developing a Deal
Where is state Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) brunching Sunday? At Huntley Hall, the Fauquier County home of John T. "Til" Hazel Jr. and Hazel's wife, Anne.
The Hazels are holding a $1,000-a-pop event for the Democratic floor leader and inviting movers and shakers almost as well known as the prominent developer himself.
By the looks of the 24-member host committee, it seems certain that several Republicans will be attending the fete for Saslaw, a senator since 1980. So, too, will corporate folk from Dominion Resources Inc., GE Financial Assurance, MCI WorldCom and Metrocall. Other deep-pocket industry types also will be there, representing bankers, health plans, real estate agents, beer and wine wholesalers and optometrists.