Armed citizens shake up council
Protesters have gripe with panel's anti-gun procedure
Oct. 2, 2004 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON - It seemed simple enough. Suburban Falls Church, Va., officials
recently drafted a policy that would require city workers to call 911
immediately if anyone stepped onto city property carrying a gun. Police who
responded would check to see whether the gun was properly licensed and
report their findings to city officials.
With all seven council members and many residents of this little city inside
the Capital Beltway firmly in the anti-gun camp, only a few officials
expected any problems with the procedures.
But if the intent was to discourage gun toting in the city, the effort has
so far backfired.
About 30 people,pistols strapped to their hips, strode into the council's
meeting this week protesting the policy and warning that it violates their
right to bear arms - and possibly state laws, as well.
The group was largely organized by Philip Van Cleave, president of the gun
owners group Virginia Citizens Defense League, who drove up from his home
near Richmond. He had hardly set foot in the place before, but now, he
vowed, "Falls Church is going to be under a microscope."
"We weren't paying any attention to them until they did this," he said. "If
they try to set some standard like this, and we ignore them, then it's going
to send the wrong message. . . . If they violate state law, we are prepared
to sue them."
The presence of so many pistol-packing citizens unnerved council members
and, in particular, infuriated Councilman David Snyder, who denounced their
brazen display of firearms as "intimidation" and attacked Virginia's
recently enacted laws that limit local control over guns."It's particularly ironic that everyone on the state, federal and local
levels are concerned about gang violence, and yet Virginia prevents local
communities from acting against that very violence when guns are potentially
involved," he said in an interview.
"It was unnerving," said Vice Mayor Martha "Marty" Meserve. "Our staff is
supposed to be on alert to look for suspicious activity, to look for
terrorists, and now they're being told that if they question someone
carrying a weapon, they are harassing people. You can't have it both ways."
The debate underscores the political divide between northern Virginia's
urban communities and the conservative leanings of the General Assembly.
"It's an absolutely bizarre situation, where the citizens of Falls Church
can't determine the levels of safety that they want on the facilities that
they alone have paid for," Snyder said.
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