EVER SINCE July 1 -- when yet another gun-lovers' law loosened up Virginia's already lax governance of weapons -- it's been one big macho-fest for heat-packers who get their courage from strapping on pistols. Not every diner may relish the sight of six armed men at the next table, but unless the General Assembly comes to its senses next year, families out for a gathering will have to get used to pistols and ammo belts with their burgers and fries.

As reported by The Post's Tom Jackman, residents have been spotted around Fairfax County several times in the past six weeks exercising their new right to wear arms. Police commanders have had to issue reminders to officers that "open carry" is legal. Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, an organization of thousands of gun owners, insists that there has been no coordinated effort to strut with guns, but he notes that this "is a good opportunity to educate people."

At least "open carry" can be spotted. Carrying concealed weapons also is allowed, but that requires a permit issued by a local court. The most difficult thing to regulate, to be sure, is tempers. Residents just have to hope that they don't rub a gun-toter the wrong way. And don't look for any rescue from local officials. The new state law now prohibits any locality from enacting regulations on gun ownership, carrying, storage or purchase, except for rules relating to the workplace.

Maryland and the District don't allow all these "freedoms." So area travelers should be on notice: Virginia Is for Gun-Lovers.