Thursday, October 14, 2010
Metro columnist Dan Casey: Gun legislation: If it weren't so scary, it would be funny
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Read Dan's blog
One of the more colorful exclamations heard in the halls of a state legislature is, "The camel's nose is under the tent!"
The warning describes a proposal that opponents fear will lead to more far-reaching legislation in the future.
It's a near-perfect metaphor for the liberalization of concealed carry and other gun laws that began sweeping the nation in the 1990s.
Many of those seemed not wholly unreasonable, on their face, when the concealed carry movement took hold in the 1990s.
Typical prohibitions included bars, schools, churches, courthouses and some public buildings. Usually, a permit to carry a concealed weapon required some form of classroom gun training.
That's the way it was when Virginia enacted its "shall issue" permit law in 1995. But in the years since, they've walked back those agreements so many times that you have to question their fundamental sincerity.
In Virginia, it's now kosher for permit holders to carry concealed weapons in bars, provided they do not drink. And nobody in Virginia needs to attend an in-person class, or ever have touched a pistol, to obtain the required certificate alleging they're "competent" with a handgun.
Earlier this year, Virginia lawmakers proposed legislation allowing permitted handgun hiders to carry in churches, and under certain circumstances in public schools, onto the private property of employers who prohibit guns, on college campuses and in courthouses.
Another bill would have made concealed carry permit records secret, so as not to embarrass the gun movement every time a state-licensed permit holder goes on a rampage and kills people. That happens with depressing regularity in Virginia and elsewhere.
All that stuff ultimately failed, but it will be back.
The coup de grace came in mid-April, only days after Gov. Bob McDonnell signed the guns-in-bars bill into law and made Virginia one of four states to enact the legislation this year.
The ink on that gem was barely dry when up stepped Philip Van Cleave, who runs the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League and is an influential Richmond gun lobbyist.
On April 19, at the Second Amendment March in Washington, he declared that in the 2011 Virginia General Assembly, he would get a lawmaker to sponsor a bill allowing gun permit holders to drink while carrying a concealed weapon in a bar.
With a straight face, Van Cleave framed it as a civil rights issue, because police officers and prosecutors already are allowed to drink with their concealed guns.
Unfair! he said.
Either gun-toting cops and prosecutors should be barred from drinking in ABC establishments, or everybody else with a permit should be allowed, he said. Anything less makes concealed carry permit holders "second-class citizens."
In an e-mail Tuesday, Van Cleave told me he still expects that bill, and one banning cops and prosecutors from drinking in bars while carrying, to be introduced in the next 2011 General Assembly.
For the sake of consistency, one or the other needs to be enacted, he said (Van Cleave prefers the every-gun-carrier-can-drink bill). But they will not be the gun lobby's highest priorities, he added.
There are others: guns in locked cars on employers' property, concealed carry by school staff, and repealing the one-handgun-a-month purchase limit, which already doesn't apply to concealed carry permit holders.
Actions such as these are enough to make one wonder whether someday we'll witness the gun lobby pushing legislation restoring felons' gun rights. Or concealed carry by children. Neither is proscribed by the Second Amendment, after all.
The activists loudly shout they're not in favor of felons or kids with guns. But remember, their "position" always comes with a big fat asterisk that means "not at this time."
Their actions in the past decade with regard to gun liberalization clearly demonstrate this. And the 2011 Virginia General Assembly session is less than 90 days away.
With guns, the camel's nose got under the commonwealth's tent years ago. Now the camel's head, shoulders and front hooves are in there.
Meanwhile, the untrustworthy gun lobby is trying to push the camel's hindquarters inside, too.
You've got to wonder: Where does it end?
Dan Casey's column runs Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.