Sunday, July 10, 2011
Christina Nuckols: Cuccinelli's gun opinion is just that
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Christina Nuckols grew up in the Shenandoah Valley and worked at several newspapers in western Virginia, including The Roanoke Times, before moving to Richmond to cover state government and politics. After 14 years at the state Capitol, she returned to Roanoke in 2011 to become the editorial page editor. christina. firstname.lastname@example.org | 981-3377
From the RoundTable blog
I suppose it was inevitable. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli spends so much time on The Roanoke Times editorial page that he now thinks of himself as a member of our board.
I want him to feel like he's welcome here. In fact, we've exempted him from our rule that limits most of our regular correspondents to having their ruminations published once every 30 days. It's only fair that we give him some leeway, since we frequently pen editorials scolding him for one transgression or another. We would try harder to pace ourselves if he would respond in kind and limit himself to filing one lawsuit each month on the taxpayers' dime.
Cuccinelli tried his hand at editorial writing in the middle of a legal opinion he recently wrote regarding gun restrictions at public universities.
"I express no opinion about their wisdom," Cuccinelli wrote. "It certainly can be argued that such policies are ineffectual because persons who wish to perpetrate violence will ignore them, and that the net effect of such policies is to leave defenseless the law-abiding citizens who follow these policies."
It's none of his business, but ...
Cuccinelli appended his two cents onto the end of an official analysis of the University of Virginia's policy banning firearms and ammunition in academic buildings, dormitories, research labs, sports arenas, gymnasiums, theaters and the university hospital without prior permission from the campus police chief.
The attorney general ruled that UVa may prohibit people from wearing guns openly, but individuals with concealed carry permits are exempt from the policy as it now stands.
Cuccinelli's opinion seems to clash with a recent ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court that upheld a ban on firearms in buildings on the campus of George Mason University.
Not so, says the attorney general. George Mason's ban takes the form of a "regulation," while UVa is relying on a mere "policy." State law says concealed handgun permits can only be superseded by a law, and regulations carry the weight of law. Policies do not.
Is that totally clear?
The difference between regulations and policies isn't spelled out in Cuccinelli's opinion, leaving university officials across the state scrambling to figure out whether their gun rules passed muster.
"It did confuse us, and it did surprise us," Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker said last week about the attorney general's opinion, which he learned about through an alert from UVa, not Cuccinelli's office.
Generally, lawyers try to avoid confusing and surprising their clients. That should be doubly true when the subject is guns and the client is a university still suffering from the shock and grief of a mass murder that took the lives of students and faculty members.
Hincker said the university has a policy on firearms similar to the one at UVa. He said it will probably be upgraded to a regulation, which will require posting the proposed language and receiving public comment.
In his ruling, Cuccinelli acknowledges that the law on gun restrictions isn't fully settled. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that the Second Amendment right to bear arms isn't unlimited. Restrictions are acceptable in "sensitive places" such as schools and government buildings. It seems to me that universities fit in there somewhere.
In any event, what's unstated in Cuccinelli's legal opinion is that it's just that -- an opinion. It doesn't carry the weight of law any more than the policy he's addressing. So maybe there really isn't much of a difference between his conclusions and those you can read every day on the editorial page.
We'll be sure to leave him some space this week to opine on that topic. But we're not ready to put him on the masthead just yet.