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On the Senate floor with a gun on her hip, Republican says packing heat can deter violence

Virginia state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield), wearing her handgun on her hip on the Senate floor in Richmond, talks Wednesday with state Sen. David R. Suetterlein (R-Roanoke), center, and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D).
Virginia state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield), wearing her handgun on her hip on the Senate floor in Richmond, talks Wednesday with state Sen. David R. Suetterlein (R-Roanoke), center, and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D). (Laura Vozzella/The Washington Post)
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RICHMOND — Even in Virginia, where gun culture runs deep and some state lawmakers wear concealed weapons as routinely as dress socks, this scene raised eyebrows: state Sen. Amanda Chase standing on the floor of the ornate chamber with a .38 special openly strapped to her hip.

“I’ve had people get in my face. I’ve had people come up and try to touch me inappropriately,” said Chase, a Republican freshman seeking reelection this year in a suburban-rural district south of Richmond. “And it’’ — the gun — “is a deterrent.”

Rules about guns are notoriously loose in Mr. Jefferson’s Capitol, where even visitors with concealed-carry permits are allowed to bring weapons in. In the Senate alone, at least six of the 21 Republicans regularly bring guns on the floor. But most of the time, they keep their weapons concealed. That was true for Chase too, until this week.

“I respect that it may raise an eyebrow with people, so I always conceal-carry,” said Chase, who owns a small financial services business. “I don’t want to raise an alarm for other people.”

Chase had a change of heart after a colleague complained about an encounter with immigration activists. State Sen. Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun) said the activists mobbed him Monday after he presented his bill to ban sanctuary cities. Chase decided that wearing her gun openly might deter that kind of thing.

“It concerned me,” she said of the episode with Black. “I’ve had threats. I’ve had stalkers since I’ve been in the General Assembly. I am going to continue to represent the issues that are important to my constituents, and I’m not going to be intimidated by people who would try to physically harm me.”

Chase also recalled an earlier scare: She was working in the Richmond office of then-Rep. Eric Cantor in 2010 when a shot was fired through the window.

Chase started openly carrying her revolver Tuesday, something first noted in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“I’ve had a very positive reception,” Chase said. “I’ve been called a ‘badass.’ ”

Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) suggested another nickname: “Senator Annie Oakley Chase.”

“If she gets in an argument, what’s she gonna [do], pull out a gun and shoot them?” he said. “I just think it’s absurd.”

A more circumspect assessment came from Brian Moran, Virginia’s secretary of public safety and homeland security.

“I think the Capitol Police are well trained and do a fabulous job,” he said. “And if any member has concerns, they really should express those to Capitol Police so they feel secure while they’re doing the people’s business in the people’s house.”

Gun-toting legislators have run into a few problems over the years in the Capitol. State Sen. John Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake) accidentally left a loaded gun in a committee room in 2017, the Times-Dispatch reported at the time.

In 2006, then-Del John S. “Jack” Reid (R-Henrico) accidentally fired his pistol in his General Assembly office. A single bullet lodged into a bulletproof vest that was hanging on the back of his closed office door. No one was injured.

Chase, a conservative who has been a vocal critic of efforts to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment this year, said she has felt more confident since she began openly carrying her gun. After her long day in the legislature is over, she feels better about heading out alone to a dark parking lot near the Capitol.

“It empowers women,” she said. “I jokingly call it my ERA.”