THE WILD WEST mentality that has turned Virginia into Holster Heaven -- where people openly packing guns can sashay almost anywhere -- is making a grim mockery of security considerations at greater Washington's two airports in the Old Dominion. Though Ronald Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport don't -- and still won't -- allow weapons inside the terminals, on the airfields or in buildings adjacent to the airfields without prior arrangements, people will be free, as of Dec. 1, to transport their arsenals right onto the grounds and leave them stashed in their cars at the parking lots.

In the post-Sept. 11 world, that's irresponsible and dangerous. Yet as long as open-carry is the law in Virginia, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has little choice. State law says the pistol packers can wear their weapons while motoring along state roads, including those that head to and through airport property. So what are gun owners stopping at the airport supposed to do with their weapons, other than lock them in their cars? The airports authority board voted this month to amend its regulations, officials explained, to prevent law-abiding people from inadvertently violating the regulations.

So now, outside the security check areas in terminals -- where at least some people have to step out of their shoes and undergo pat-downs and other safety checks -- the parking lots may be loaded with deadly weapons. How comforting is that? It's even worse in Virginia's other airports, where people can bring guns inside the terminals, though not beyond the checkpoints. Airports elsewhere in the country are subject to vastly differing state laws. Federal protections should extend to entire airport sites. Allowing arsenals in the parking lots of terminals serving the nation's capital -- just because these days "Virginia Is for Gun Lovers" -- is reckless.