Thank you, Commonwealth of Virginia.
Thank you, Concealed Carry Institute.
Thank you, state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli.
All of you deserve my gratitude, because on Wednesday I joined 203,131 other Virginians who hold state-issued permits to carry loaded, concealed handguns in the commonwealth.
I can also carry a concealed handgun in 12 other states that grant reciprocity to Virginia permit holders. Among them are North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.
Never mind that I have never fired a pistol.
Never mind than I have never gripped one in my fingers.
Never mind that, as of this column, I have never laid a finger on a handgun in my life.
Under Virginia law, that is no bar to obtaining a concealed carry permit.
You might wonder how something like this could come to pass.
Can any idiot get a concealed carry permit?
In Virginia, the answer is pretty much "Yes," with a few caveats.
You have to be at least 21. You need a clean criminal record. You can't be mentally ill, or be a drug addict or dealer. Or have a restraining order against you.
And you have to demonstrate "competence" with a gun.
That fine print about "competence" always was the sticking point for a handgun virgin like me.
In states such as Arizona, you have to take an eight-hour, in-person class to demonstrate gun competence. In Florida, an instructor must witness you handling and firing a weapon. In Delaware, you have to fire at least 100 rounds on a range with the instructor present.
Not in Virginia.
Thanks to a law introduced by Cuccinelli, R-Fairfax County, and passed by the Virginia General Assembly this year, you no longer need to demonstrate your competence to a live person.
Instead, you can take a one-hour, $40 streaming video course on the Internet, courtesy of the Concealed Carry Institute, whose owner, Robert Marcus, in December donated $1,000 to Cuccinelli's campaign for attorney general.
You can do it in the privacy of your own home, while you nurse a six-pack if you like.
And if you pass the true/false and multiple-choice quiz that comes after the video, your certificate pops up on your computer screen. You just press a button to print it out. It's easier than pulling a trigger.
Cuccinelli's law requires circuit court judges to accept my Concealed Carry Institute certificate as proof of competence.
None of that touching bullets, loading a gun or actually firing it stuff.
Then you take your printer-paper certificate down to the courthouse, fill out an application in the circuit court clerk's office, submit your fingerprints and photo, and then wait a month or so. The clerk calls when your permit is ready.
That is how I obtained my concealed carry permit without ever touching a handgun.
I spoke to Cuccinelli's campaign spokesman about this Thursday. He was not amused.
Chris LaCivita said, more or less, that nobody besides me would be foolish enough to get a permit without knowing how to handle a gun.
"You can go on your crusade about this ... but the bottom line is this: If you, as an individual, want to carry a concealed weapon without having the common sense to know how to use it, that's your choice," LaCivita said. "It's stupid, but it's your choice."
And it was legislation Cuccinelli wrote that gave me that choice.
The Virginia General Assembly passed this bill six times: three times in the state Senate and three time in the House of Delegates. Del. Steve Shannon, D-Fairfax, who is Cuccinelli's opponent in the attorney general's race, voted for it, too.
In a fit of common sense, Gov. Tim Kaine vetoed it.
Both the House and Senate voted to override that veto. So now it is the law of the land. It took effect July 1.
And I have my permit. Even though I have never laid a finger on a pistol in my life.
To me, that's final proof that Virginia's concealed carry law is insanely weak, utterly ridiculous and absolutely reckless.
It makes about as much sense as the General Assembly giving blind people permits to drive.