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Arlington Connection: Gun Ban Proposed for Capitol, General Assembly Building Print

Hope, Ticer expect resistance from gun-rights advocates.


by ANA APOSTOLERIS, Staff Writer

 © Created: Friday, January 14, 2011

On Tuesday, Del. Patrick A. Hope (D-47) of Arlington introduced a measure which would prohibit the possession of firearms in the Virginia Capitol or the General Assembly Building (GAB). Coming on the heels of Saturday’s shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Az.), Hope claims that his new legislation would “remove a very real threat to the safety and security of everyone who enters our facilities."

Although it has support from some state leaders, including state Sen. Patsy Ticer (D-30), and from firearm regulations advocates among the state population, Hope’s bill is expected to be met with stiff opposition from the pro-gun rights factions of the Virginia legislature.

Hope, a delegate since 2010, says that the change in policy would not result in any changes in levels of security at the Capitol or at the GAB. “[Enforcement] is the key question,” he said. “If you have a [firearms] permit, you’d simply have to [leave] your gun with the police on the way in and go about your business.” The delegate also claims that an increase in security would be “unnecessary,” as the tools to enforce the new measure are already in place. “Why do we have these metal detectors if we simply allow people with guns to go through them?”

Bracing for a fight from constituents and colleagues who view the legislation as an infringement upon gun rights, Hope stressed that his new legislation would not overstep security precedents set by other government institutions. “You can’t go into the [United States] Capitol with a gun,” he said. “You can’t even walk through an airport with a gun. This shouldn’t be any different.” He expressed an understanding of viewpoints about self-defense, but also stated that self-defense measures are irrelevant in the contexts of the Capitol and the GAB. “We have people who are specially trained to protect people [in these buildings],” Hope said. “I understand [the desire for a method of] self-defense, but if you have people to protect you, you don’t need a firearm.” Legislators would be exempt from the new measure and would continue to be allowed to carry firearms in the Capitol, according to Hope.

The bill would not change gun laws outside of the two buildings in question, regardless of whether or not state officials were present — for example, there would be no change in regulations at outdoor public events such as the one at which Giffords was shot. “We’re not going to be able to stop [violence] in all situations,” said Hope, “but in circumstances where we know there will be [state officials], we should protect them.”

Hope has an ally in Ticer, who represents Alexandria and parts of Arlington and Fairfax counties. She echoed the delegate’s sentiments on the necessity and feasibility of the new bill. “I think it’s pretty silly that we have machines that test whether or not people have guns but we don’t take them away, temporarily,” she said. “There’s no question in my mind that it’s safer when people don’t have ammunition.”

GUN RIGHTS and accessibility are a hot topic in Virginia and across the country, as the people of Virginia and the legislature are still dealing with the fallout from the Virginia Tech shootings of 2007. Abigail Spangler of Alexandria, a gun-control activist and the founder of the Protest Easy Guns activist group, supports the Hope bill and says that state and national laws glorify gun ownership and usage.

"A few years ago, I was walking into the State Capitol with a banner, because I was going to lead a protest that day," said Spangler. "The police stopped me. ... Yet, that was the same year that they made an express line for people with gun permits to go through to the Capitol. Here I am, an average citizen trying to fight gun violence in America, and I’m not allowed to walk into the Capitol with a banner rolled up under my arm, with Virginia Tech massacre victims’ families … What gives gun carry permit owners that privilege?”

She expressed displeasure with the way public safety is compromised in the name of gun rights. “Our country is in the middle of a national crisis,” said Spangler. “Our gun laws are so lax that our children, police, and all Americans are at risk of gun violence from dangerous individuals who have far too easy access to guns.”

The National Rifle Association (NRA), based in Fairfax, declined to comment on the bill, saying only that in the wake of the Arizona tragedy “anything other than prayers for the victims and their families would be inappropriate." Although no opponents of the measure could be reached for comment at the time of this writing, Hope’s legislation will likely be met with resistance as it is introduced to a Virginia legislature that put him on the losing end of several guns-related referendums last year, according to Project Vote Smart’s voting record on the delegate. Hope’s firearms frustrations are not unusual for members of the legislature who advocate for restricted gun rights; Ticer, drawing off 15 years of experience as a state senator, views the legislature as virtually impenetrable when it comes to these issues. She said she was an active advocate of gun control at the beginning of her political career, but that she “stopped, because [such bills] don’t get anywhere down here.”

IN 1996, her first year as state senator, Ticer co-patroned a bill which would have legalized firearm bans in Northern Virginia county facilities; this proposal was shot down in an unrecorded committee vote. In 1997, she co-patroned another bill designed to legalize dangerous weapon bans in publicly-owned recreation or community centers. Although this measure passed the House and the Senate, it was eventually vetoed by then-Governor George F. Allen (R), and the State Senate subsequently upheld the veto.

Although Hope remains optimistic, he is aware of the odds his legislation is up against. “The bill has a difficult road home,” he admitted. The 2011 Virginia General Assembly goes into session on Jan. 12 in Richmond.