Gun lobby believes it can gain more ground for owners
By Jim Nolan
Published: April 26, 2010
Updated: April 26, 2010 8:51 AM
Philip Van Cleave wants every Virginian who has a permit to carry a concealed handgun into a bar to be able to have a drink - or he wants no gun carrier to be able to drink.
That's the choice that Van Cleave, the leader of the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League, wants to offer state lawmakers next year when the General Assembly reconvenes.
He said he is going to find a legislator to submit two bills to the body representing both positions.
His aim is to force lawmakers to expand the rights of concealed-handgun owners in bars or rescind the current exception that allows law-enforcement officers and commonwealth's attorneys to carry concealed weapons and consume alcohol.
"We're not allowed to drink, but they can," Van Cleave said. "That's two classes of citizens."
The proposal comes just days after Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, signed into law a bill repealing the state's long-standing ban on holders of concealed-weapons permits carrying hidden guns into restaurants that serve alcohol. Permit holders will be allowed to enter with a firearm as long as they do not drink alcohol.
The law, which takes effect July 1, was a significant victory for the state's gun owners and the defense league, which had worked for 13 years on the issue.
"We've been fighting to get our rights back," Van Cleave told a gathering last Monday at the Second Amendment March in Washington.
"Rights that have been stripped away from us by politicians and corrupt courts that felt they can do what they please . . . without that pesky little Constitution getting in the way."
Van Cleave said one proposed bill would allow no one but an on-duty officer doing undercover work to drink alcohol while carrying a concealed weapon. The other bill will say that anyone can carry a concealed gun and drink if they wish, "as long as they are not drunk."
"Whatever the General Assembly assumes will apply to everyone," he said. "Police officers and permit holders are all in the same tent; so I say: General Assembly, you choose. But whatever it is, we're equal."
Administration officials were taking a wait-and-see approach.
"The governor is a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights," McDonnell press secretary Stacey Johnson said. "He will review any proposed legislation when it's introduced to the General Assembly."
Van Cleave's bold suggestion signals that the pro-gun lobby is reloading after its General Assembly success with the belief that it can gain more ground for gun owners.
The McDonnell administration has been decidedly more gun-friendly that the previous administration of Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine.
As governor, Kaine vetoed nearly every expansion of gun rights that made it to his desk, including the restaurant bill.
Kaine also vetoed a bill that allows people without concealed-carry permits to stow firearms in locked containers or glove boxes in their vehicles.
Versions of both bills passed during the recently concluded assembly session, and McDonnell signed them. He even amended the glove-box bill to allow the weapons to be kept in unlocked containers, and the amendment was approved by the legislature Wednesday.
Any legislation submitted on the issue would have to clear the Democratic-controlled Senate Courts of Justice Committee to have a chance at becoming law.
Last month, committee chairman Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, D-Richmond, convened a special subcommittee of three Democrats and one Republican to hear a host of gun bills. Most of the bills were defeated and failed to advance to the full committee.
One member of the full committee, Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, said the new law allowing concealed guns in bars has enough problems without needing to be expanded.
"I fall into the category that no one should be drinking with a concealed weapon," he said.
"The real problem with [Van Cleave's] whole proposal is the same thing you run into with concealed guns in bars: How does anybody know if you're drinking? How do you enforce that? The problem is the enforceability piece."
The defense league and gun-rights advocates are not unhappy with their progress during the recently concluded General Assembly session. But they're showing no signs of slowing down.
On the list: repealing the state's one-gun-a-month purchase restriction. Concealing the names of concealed-carry permit holders. Removing the authority of state police to conduct background checks on gun purchasers who buy from federally licensed dealers.
"They certainly have gained ground," said McEachin, who said the legislative successes of such groups as the defense league signal the need for gun-control advocates in the legislature to be more proactive.
After two previous years of trying, Democrats this year did not pursue a bill that would require background checks of all purchases at gun shows.
"Those of us who are in favor of a more moderate, a more reasonable approach need to regroup," McEachin said. "Part of the problem is we haven't stayed on the offensive and offered ideas, and the table has been set by the Republican administration."