Virginia GOP split on gun agenda for 2013

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Photo - Guns seized by New Jersey authorities this month. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Guns seized by New Jersey authorities this month. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

Virginia lawmakers this year lifted the state's long-standing restriction on handgun sales, but pro-gun Republicans are now divided over whether to push aggressively for new gun rights in the upcoming General Assembly session or to lie low for a while.

Gun advocates scored a major victory when Gov. Bob McDonnell in March signed a bill that abolished the limit on handgun sales to one a month. Some Republicans are content with the win and aren't looking to stir up more controversy after a legislative session overwhelmed with divisive social issues like abortion.

"I hope everyone is sort of taking a deep breath and re-evaluating these things," said Del. Dickie Bell, R-Staunton. "We got wrapped around it last year and I think we need to be careful on what we bring forward."

Bell introduced a bill last session that would have allowed residents to kill an intruder entering their home, but he dropped the "castle doctrine" legislation and doesn't plan to bring it up again. The fatal shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin last February by a man claiming self-defense under the state's "stand your ground" law helped halt the Virginia bill and is a reason Bell isn't proposing it again next year.

Bell said there shouldn't be a rush to pass every bill that Democrats previously blocked just because Republicans now control all the levers of government in Richmond.

But others in Bell's party want to press on. The GOP now controls an evenly divided Senate because Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling holds the tie-breaking vote, but Republicans could lose that control -- and the opportunity to push through their agenda -- if Virginians elect a Democrat to succeed Bolling in 2013.

Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Grayson, plans to bring back a bill next year that would allow Virginians to carry concealed weapons on state property, including college campuses.

"A lot of Republicans are not as comfortable as I am with the fact that if you're a law-abiding citizen and you haven't committed any crimes, you get to carry a gun and no one should have a right to take that away," Carrico said.

The Virginia Citizens Defense League also wants a bill that allows any weapon to be carried in a concealed manner.

"Throwing stars, a machete, whatever," said League President Philip Van Cleave. "There's a lot less lethal options people can carry than a gun."

Other gun lobbyists, however, can sense the reluctance to push on.

"At the end of the election and with another one coming up," said David Adams of the Virginia Shooting Sports Association, a state affiliate of the National Rifle Association, "there was a rumbling that there were so many gun bills that went through the General Assembly last [session] there's not a stomach for it."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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