Northern Virginia politicians of both major parties ventured to Richmond last 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 in a row, Fairfax County Democrat Del. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller led the party's charge to close legal loopholes permitting guns on school property in certain cases. Puller, who is running for a state Senate seat this fall, 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.

Last week, Puller was joined by Leslie L. Byrne, a former member of the House of Delegates 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 said the next day to the same press corps in the same building. The Fairfax County Republican, who is also in a tough race back home, said guns belong nowhere near schools, period.

"The concern is heartfelt across the state," Dillard 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 of Delegates.

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 on Nov. 2, but both sides think the issue has enough traction with voters to keep talking about it for the foreseeable future.

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.' "

Building Influence Over Brunch?

Where is state Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) scheduled to brunch today?

At Huntley Hall, the Fauquier County home of John T. "Til" Hazel Jr. and Hazel's wife, Anne.

The Hazels are hosting 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 Inc. and Metrocall Inc.

Other deep-pocket industry types also will be there, representing bankers, health plans, Realtors, beer and wine wholesalers, and optometrists.

Gilmore Gathers the Gang

Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) was careful to corral fellow Republican incumbents and several GOP challengers for his grand announcement last week of a tough anti-drug program.

Northern Virginians included Dels. John A. "Jack" Rollison III (Prince William) and John H. "Jack" Rust Jr. (Fairfax), Fairfax County Sheriff Carl R. Peed and Daniel F. Rinzel, who is running against Del. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D-Fairfax).

Rinzel said he welcomed Gilmore's Substance Abuse Reduction Effort, or Sabre, saying it could help curb crime along the Route 1 corridor in Fairfax County, the site of some of the most serious offenses in Rinzel's area.

Peed, whose 589-bed jail houses about 900 prisoners, said Sabre could help many of those who have drug and alcohol problems.

Ceremony for Servicemen Draws Allen

Former governor George Allen (R), who hopes to unseat a Vietnam War veteran from the U.S. Senate next year, honored servicemen still missing in action from that conflict and other wars at a ceremony here the other day.

Allen, who did not serve in Vietnam, is challenging two-term Sen. Charles S. Robb (D).

Allen helped dedicate eight new flags at the state's War Memorial the week before last and said the nation should "never rest until each American is accounted for and returned home."

"I thank God for each and every one of you," Allen told the assembled veterans.