Virginia lawmaker's AK-47 sparks gun debate on House floor

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Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno,Gun Control

A Richmond-area lawmaker brandished an AK-47 on the floor of the Virginia House of Delegates on Thursday in a wild stunt aimed at rallying support for tougher gun laws.

Del. Joe Morrissey, D-Highland Springs, pulled the weapon out shortly after the day's session got underway, a time when legislators typically welcome school groups and other visitors in the chamber's gallery.

Morrissey assured his colleagues the gun was not loaded and pointed it toward the ceiling as he pleaded for Republican House Speaker Bill Howell to help push through a subcommittee the assault weapons ban that Morrissey is proposing.

"A lot of people don't know that in many locations in the commonwealth, you can take this gun, you can walk in the middle of Main Street loaded and not be in violation of the law," Morrissey said. "Even though the law right now says you can't bring this gun into a high school or elementary or middle school, there is nothing from keeping you from walking in front of [an elementary school with a gun]."

A House subcommittee late Thursday effectively killed Morrissey's bill, which mirrored President Obama's call for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammo magazines following the mass killing of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school. The same panel also rejected universal background checks for gun buyers and sent a proposal to arm school staff to Gov. Bob McDonnell's school safety task force.

The AK-47 that Morrissey brought on the floor was borrowed from someone else, his office told The Washington Examiner. He told Capitol Police about his plan in advance. Members of the General Assembly, law enforcement personnel or anyone with a concealed weapon permit is allowed to bring a gun into the Capitol.

Republicans in the chamber were not amused by Morrissey's stunt.

Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, interrupted Morrissey's speech to ask him to take his finger out of the trigger guard and later said that taking guns from citizens is what led to the Holocaust and mass killings under the Soviet Gulag.

"Those who put the Second Amendment into the fabric of our nation understood that a government that is formed and instituted by free people trust its citizens with the right to defend themselves with arms," Gilbert said.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed nearly two-thirds of Virginians support banning military-style assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. More than 90 percent favor universal background checks.

Morrissey told lawmakers: "The people want us, by an overwhelming margin, to ban these weapons."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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