Richmond Free Press
Council members express uneasiness,need for new law
By Jeremy M. Lazarus
Bruce Tyler wonders whether a bulletproof vest should be part of his City Council wardrobe. He’s only partly joking. The 1st District councilman has body armor on his mind after he and his eight colleagues had to face a glowering group of 10 men, some carrying firearms, who shockingly showed up at the Nov. 23 council meeting at City Hall.“I am very uncomfortable around guns,” Mr. Tyler said this week in the wake of the meeting where a pistol-toting few came to lobby council. Their issue: Opposition to the council’s latest push for state controls on gun sales, particularly at laxly regulated gun shows. Having gun advocates brazenly showing their weapons “definitely made me uncomfortable,” said Mr. Tyler, an architect.
In a Free Press inquiry Tuesday, four other council members also expressed concern at having to conduct city business in front of people wearing weapons in shoulder holsters or on their belts. The pistol-packing men were members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. Most displayed orange stickers on their shirts stating “Guns Save Lives” in a city in which shootings are all too common.
“I support the right of people to bear arms to protect themselves,” a still seething Council Vice President Ellen F. Robertson, 6th District, said, “but I see no reason why people have to bring their weapons into an arena where there is no perceived threat.” “It wasn’t appropriate,” said Chris A. Hilbert, 3rd District, who lost his father to gun violence.
“I wasn’t very happy about it,” said Council President Kathy C. Graziano, 4th district, “but I don’t think there is much we can do about it.” And that seems to be the case. Local officials have been stripped of authority to impose any restrictions on guns, gun sales and gun carrying by a General Assembly majority that has embraced the gun culture advocated by the likes of Philip Van Cleave, who led the pro-gun league members to City Council.
The specific law that bars council action is 15.2-915 of the Virginia Code, which, in part, states: “No locality shall adopt or enforce any ordinance … governing the purchase, possession, transfer ownership, carrying, storage or transporting of firearms ammunition, or components … “ So while Councilman E. Martin “Marty” Jewell, 5th District, believes that “if people come armed to City Hall, we ought to be able to turn them away,” the council has no way to make that law, according to outgoing City Attorney Norman Sales. In Ms. Robertson’s opinion, Richmond Police officers should at least be able to check that people who come to City Hall “carrying weapons are carrying weapons that are unloaded.”
However, Richmond Police attorney Victoria Benjamin said this week that wearing unconcealed guns into City Hall is legal and officers would first need probable cause that the owner represented a threat to make such a check. As it now stands, schools, courthouses, airports and restaurants that sell liquor are among the few places in the state where guns are still banned by the Virginia legislature. But it has taken repeated governor vetoes to maintain the ban on carrying concealed guns into places selling alcohol.
The legislature also has made it easier for citizens to get permits to carry concealed guns and expanded the places where they can be carried. Today permit-carrying citizens can openly wear their guns into the State Capitol, though the Executive Mansion is still off limits. As a result, Mr. Hilbert sees little value in trying to bring back metal detectors. Richmond experimented with metal detectors atCity Hall after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but discarded them in 2005 as an unnecessary expense.
Ms. Graziano agrees. If people can openly carry weapons, she said, “Metal detectors would not do much good.” That is the reason, the council members argue, for new legislation that would end legal gun-toting at City Council meetings and other public meetings. “I think that is a reasonable thing to do,” Mr. Hilbert said.
My letter to: Richmond Free Press
RE: The article "Gun Toters at City Hall" in the December 10-12 edition, Council Vice President Ellen F. Robertson states (while still seething), “I support the right of people to bear arms to protect themselves, but I see no reason why people have to bring their weapons into an arena where there is no perceived threat," and Chris Hilbert stated, "It wasn't appropriate."
Apparently these Council members believe in the percentage theory of rights. Perhaps Mr. Lazarus can do a followup and find out exactly what percentage of a right that these elected representatives think the citizens should possess, as well as which other rights guaranteed by our Constitution fall under this theory. Can we look forward to them giving us a proclamation that secures these partial rights so that we know where we stand in the city of Richmond?
Should I give up my right to be armed, my right to self protection, and be defenseless to and from city hall meetings so that no one's feelings are hurt? Do armed citizens interfere with their non- Constitutional right to be comfortable? Should I leave my weapon in my car or home to be stolen?
And lastly, why would I go anywhere I 'perceived a need for a gun'? That's illogical. I guess the Richmond city council is unfamiliar with the concept of 'random violence.'