Right to bear arms in City Hall a hot topic
By LOUIS HANSEN, The Virginian-Pilot
© July 25, 2003
Last updated: 1:50 PM
Portsmouth City Councilman Cameron Pitts, who owned an electronics store in Midtown Portsmouth, has worn a weapon for 30 years to protect himself and his business. Photo by Martin Smith-Rodden / The Virginian-Pilot.
Discuss concealed weapons talknet.hamptonroads.com/webx/cgi-bin/WebXemail@example.comJqaVwdDkU^2@.ee96fe0
The man who shot and killed a city councilman in New York's City Hall on Wednesday had to sneak a gun into the building by skirting a metal detector.
In Virginia, that wouldn't be necessary.
Not only are there no metal detectors at any City Hall in South Hampton Roads, but a state law allows citizens with concealed-weapon permits to carry guns into most public buildings.
In fact, state lawmakers watered down local gun-control laws this year. Virginians on both sides of the gun control debate agree that state regulations are likely to become looser for permitted handgun owners.
The New York councilman was shot dead by a political rival. The shooter, Othniel Askew, accompanied Councilman James Davis into City Hall and was ushered past metal detectors, according to the New York Daily News.
Askew smuggled a handgun and several rounds of ammunition in his clothes and shot Davis at close range in the balcony of the council chambers. A security officer then shot and killed Askew, the Daily News said.
This year, Virginia lawmakers loosened restrictions on concealed weapons permit holders, weakening local rules on possessing, carrying and transporting handguns.
The state law, which took effect July 1, weakened Norfolk's ban on guns in city parks. That means gun-permit holders are allowed to take their weapons to picnics, softball games and on fishing trips.
The bill's sponsor, Del. Richard H. Black, R-Loudoun, said the state needed to make its gun laws uniform, so permit holders don't inadvertently break local regulations.
New York City's tough gun-control laws did not prevent the City Hall shooting, Black said. ``Firearms regulations disarm the decent citizen,'' he said.
The Virginia Municipal League opposed the state bill, saying their members wanted more control over where guns are allowed.
Robert R. Matthias, a lobbyist for Virginia Beach, said his city wants to restrict weapons in mental health facilities and other sensitive services.
``In the end, this was something the General Assembly felt very strongly about,'' Matthias said. Indeed, state law lets permit-holders take their guns into the Capitol building in Richmond.
Municipalities have beefed up security at City Halls after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Some require visitors to provide identification or sign in before entering public buildings or hearings.
Philip Van Cleave, president of the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League, said the New York shootings would not have been prevented by more gun control.
``Nobody can guarantee your protection,'' Van Cleave said. ``You may as well just let the public be armed.''
Increasing the number of guns increases the chances of violence, said Jim Sollo, board chairman of the Virginians Against Handgun Violence.
In municipal buildings, tempers sometimes run high over disputes concerning taxes, property taxes and parking tickets, Sollo said, and firearms should be restricted from the potentially volatile environments.
Even if guns are merely shown and not used, he said, ``it could be intimidating to public servants.''
Portsmouth Councilman Cameron C. Pitts said cities need to bolster their security. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Portsmouth has added security guards and an additional police officer during its City Council public work sessions.
Pitts also provides his own security, carrying a .38-caliber Iver Johnson revolver with him almost everywhere, including City Hall.
Davis, a retired New York City police officer, was carrying a concealed gun when he was shot, said the New York Daily News.
Pitts, who owned an electronics store in Midtown Portsmouth, has worn a weapon for 30 years to protect himself and his business. ``I'm far more comfortable that way,'' he said.
Norfolk Councilman W. Randy Wright said the New York shooting should serve as a wake-up call to local governments. Norfolk should consider installing metal detectors at City Hall, he said.
Van Cleave and other gun rights supporters say they feel safer with the state's new laws. They plan to celebrate on Aug. 9 with a picnic at Norfolk's Lakewood Park.
Staff writer Jason Skog contributed to this story.
Reach Louis Hansen at (757)222-5111 or firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2003 HamptonRoads.com PilotOnline.com
Done - winning by a land slide.