Want to see how warped the gun debate is? How knee-jerk and partisan this game has become?
Check out what’s going on in Virginia.
Last month, the state’s attorney general, Mark R. Herring (D), told a bunch of out-of-state gun carriers that they can’t walk the streets of Virginia packing heat anymore because where they come from, concealed-carry gun permits are handed out like candy at a carnival, and that’s just a little too loosey-goosey for Virginia.
In the Old Dominion, residents can legally carry a concealed weapon as long as they aren’t stalkers, convicted abusers, mental-health patients and so forth.
But if another state is totally cool with letting their citizen gunslingers pack heat in public despite a troubled past, Herring doesn’t want them armed and ready when they come here. That should be common sense.
Instead, cue the outrage from the gun-rights hard-liners and their army of supporters in the legislature, who are always claiming that the government is trying to take their weaponry away.
Some of the people freaking out in Richmond right now are the ones who wrote this law — which says you can only carry a concealed weapon in this great commonwealth if you meet a set of common-sense requirements — 20 years ago.
So now that Herring wants to enforce that law (and isn’t that a mantra in some Second Amendment corners, “We don’t need new laws, we just need to enforce the ones already on the books”?), the conceal-carry crowd is calling foul.
Knee, meet jerk.
This all started two decades ago, when lawmakers radically changed what it takes to get a concealed-carry permit and thousands of Virginians rushed to get licenses to carry their guns about town.
It used to be only judges had the power to decide, on a case-by-case basis, whether anyone outside law enforcement really needed to carry a weapon. The gun folks got pretty agitated over that because so few Old Dominion judges were granting permission for people to tuck guns into their pants and purses.
Fairfax County — a mostly leafy Washington suburb that happens to be the home of the National Rifle Association — got the worst rap back then. Judges there found only one citizen in a year and a half who needed to carry a concealed weapon. They seemed to think most people could brave the wild and woolly world of Northern Virginia office parks, cul-de-sacs and shopping malls unarmed. Imagine that.
So in 1995, state Republicans moved to take that decision out of judges’ chambers.
As long as those who wanted to carry a concealed weapon took a gun safety course and weren’t a danger — no felony convictions, no history of gun violations, mental illness or substance abuse, weren’t here illegally or booted from the military dishonorably — they’d be approved.
A Republican-led House Courts of Justice committee even fattened the original list of disqualifications, adding no convictions for drunken driving, stalking or sexual assault.
Records show all of Virginia’s Republicans, as well as many Democrats, favored the final bill, and it passed 69 to 29.
In the months after the law was passed, at least 2,000 Virginians applied for and got the right to Dirty Harry their way through work, play and errands.
A couple of years later, the idea of reciprocity was discussed. Where else can armed Virginians swagger down the streets, secretly armed? And which out-of-state visitors can properly arm themselves against the dangers of visiting the commonwealth?
I mean, Colonial Williamsburg and Tysons Corner can be totally scary if you’re from Utah, right?
The folks in Richmond figured it was fair and reasonable that Virginia should have agreements only with the states that had similar restrictions.
In other words, people from states that allow someone convicted of stalking his ex-wife to walk around with a concealed weapon weren’t welcome to come to Virginia locked and loaded. And then-Gov. George Allen (R) added the provision that his attorney general and the state police should be the folks to review and keep track of this.
Common sense. Safe and smart. The measure passed overwhelmingly, with little opposition. Done.
Now, 20 years later, the attorney general is actually enforcing these laws. On Feb. 1, he is yanking reciprocity with 25 states that have concealed- permit requirements less stringent than those in Virginia. And the gun rights folks are howling.
Even the people who wrote and passed these laws — especially House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), who gave a thumbs-up to all of this back in the day — are angry about Herring’s action.
“Despite promising to take politics out of the Attorney General’s Office, Mark Herring consistently seeks to interpret and apply the law of the commonwealth through the lens of his own personal, political opinions,” Howell told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “He is damaging the integrity of the office he holds.”
By enforcing the law you endorsed, Mr. Speaker?
The policy has not changed, only the politics of the gun debate.
The gun guys are whipping folks into a frenzy, warning Virginians that they won’t be able to carry concealed weapons when they travel to Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina because those states won’t recognize Virginia’s gun toters, either, come Feb. 1.
“THE ENTIRE SOUTHERN STATES ARE GONE . . . !” shriek the guys at Pegasus Firearms in Midlothian, Va.
But they have a solution. Utah will issue concealed-carry permits even to non-Utah residents. And because 30 states accept Utah’s easier-to-get permits, a Virginian with a Utah permit can keep that trip to Nashville an armed experience.
“We will teach this course for $59.99 per student,” the Pegasus website offers. “Don’t wait! After Feb. 1st your OBX trip means that you can no longer carry your firearm concealed in NC.”
Dang. All these years I’ve been braving that Outer Banks beach rental unarmed? I’ve let my kids eat doughnuts in Duck and surf in Corolla without a Glock in my beach bag? What was I thinking?
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