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PilotOnline.com: Leave guns outside House chambers Print



Whel Del. Joe Morrissey hoisted an AK-47 above his head, thumb inside the trigger guard, on the House floor during the last legislative session, lawmakers and spectators grew noticeably uncomfortable. A Republican delegate admonished his Democratic colleague to keep his finger away from the trigger.

A proposal offered for the upcoming session by Democratic Del. Patrick Hope, of Arlington, would forbid legislators to carry firearms onto the House floor. It's a measure worth approving, and for more reasons than Morrissey's ill-advised stunt.

Hope said he knows of at least a handful of lawmakers who carry concealed firearms into the House. Those weapons do little to enhance security in a place already patrolled by armed Capitol Police. In fact, the presence of concealed firearms affords an opportunity for those obviously untrained in safe handling techniques - as Morrissey superbly demonstrated - to carry dangerous weapons onto the House floor. Virginia's requirements for obtaining a permit to carry a concealed firearm are notoriously weak and require no demonstration of gun safety or proficiency.

Instead of promoting safety, the current arrangement provides a greater risk for harm to lawmakers, legislative staff members and visitors through accidental discharge. Accidents do happen: In 2006, a delegate's .380-caliber handgun unintentionally fired as he unloaded the weapon in his office at the General Assembly Building.

Luckily, no one was hurt. The lawmaker, Republican Del. Jack Reid of Henrico, couldn't explain how it happened.

Federal lawmakers have long been forbidden to bring guns to work. After Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in her Arizona district three years ago, other lawmakers began talking about carrying guns for protection inside the U.S. Capitol. The Senate's sergeant at arms dismissed the notion.

"I think we should leave the law enforcement and security to those professionals," Terrance Gainer, a former chief of the U.S. Capitol Police, then told ABC's "Good Morning America."

"I've been a policeman for 42 years," Gainer said, "and I don't think introducing more guns to the situation is helpful."

Hope said he doesn't anticipate a favorable response from Republicans, who control Virginia's House of Delegates.

But the reasoning behind the proposal is sound and worth extending down the hall to the Senate and across Capitol Square to the General Assembly Building, where Reid fired a shot eight years ago.