Everyone seems to think that Virginia Del. Phil Hamilton's House Bill 1462, reluctantly signed into law by Gov. James Gilmore during the 1999 session of the General Assembly, closed the loophole in 1992 legislation regarding guns on school property. In reality, it closed a loophole -- Hamilton's bill dealt with gun possession by students only.
The earlier legislation, which was passed in response to incidents involving guns on school property, made discharge of firearms within 1,000 feet of any elementary, middle or high school a Class 4 felony. Parents expressed gratitude that legislators were looking out for their children. But the law, even as recently amended -- still has dangerous exceptions.
For example, if a person is engaged in lawful hunting, the law does not apply. In Virginia, "pest" animals may be hunted at any time of year, and the law does not specify what type of firearm must be used. This means that it would be legal for an 18-year-old with a valid hunting license to hunt with a handgun on school property.
Legislators argue that this exception was made for rural communities. But in truly rural areas with lots of undeveloped land, what justification would there be for hunting within 1,000 feet of any school?
On May 24, police were called to a Fairfax neighborhood to investigate reports of gunshots striking three vehicles and 12 homes. Bullets from police in SWAT training using 9-mm handguns at a nearby range had traveled nearly a mile from where they were fired -- more than five times farther than the 1,000-foot protected zone afforded our children.
Three additional exceptions allowing guns to be carried onto school property include:
Possession during programs permitted by the school.
Possession by those attending nonschool events (such as PTA meetings).
Possession while on an established shooting range on school grounds or within 1,000 feet of the grounds.
The silence of school boards, law-enforcement personnel and parents who have been made aware of these exceptions has been deafening. Legislators say the law does not need to be changed further because no child has died because of the loopholes. But who among Virginians will be the first to sacrifice a child?
-- Fred and Jeanette Kern