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RICHMOND — Guns in the state Capitol? No problem.
Guns in public libraries? Bring 'em on.
But there's one line that Virginia's famously gun-friendly legislature apparently is not ready to cross. For now, at least, it will remain impossible to get a concealed-weapon permit to carry a machine gun.
That's what Del. Jackson Miller's bill, HB2386, would have allowed. It failed to advance out of a House of Delegates subcommittee last week and so is likely dead for this legislative session.
At the annual meeting of the Militia, Police and Public Safety panel to deal with gun-related legislation, gun-rights enthusiasts and gun-control advocates once again faced off on every measure with no middle ground.
For the most part, as usual, the pro-gun side prevailed.
The panel made short work of Del. Patrick Hope's bill, HB1813, that would have prohibited firearms in the Capitol and the General Assembly Building, which houses lawmakers' offices and meeting rooms.
The recent shooting spree in Arizona — in which a judge was killed and a congresswoman gravely injured — underscores the need for such a measure, Hope (D-Arlington County) told the subcommittee.
"Passing this bill will make everyone in this building safer," he said.
The bill included an exemption for legislators and law-enforcement officers.
As Hope made his pitch, several gun-rights supporters wearing holstered pistols sat a few feet away.
"Gun-free zones, generally speaking, do not work," Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah County) told Hope. A "demented, committed person" like the Arizona shooter will find a way to commit mayhem with or without a ban, he said.
The measure was killed on a 3-1 vote.
Outside the room after the vote, Hope shook his head. "I knew this would be an uphill battle," he said. "It's unfortunate that the gun lobby has such firm control over the General Assembly, but that's the world we live in right now."
Del. Mamye BaCote's bill, HB1600, met a similar fate. It would have allowed localities to ban guns in libraries.
The bill was dispatched with virtually no discussion.
"Pistols and shotguns in our libraries are not necessary," said BaCote, who has carried the same measure in past sessions with the same outcome.
The panel was unwilling, however, to expand gun rights as proposed in Miller's bill. The measure would have allowed concealed-weapon permits to be issued for any legal weapon, not just handguns as under current law.
"I love this bill," said Philip Van Cleave, president of the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League.
Miller (R-Manassas) said he had in mind such weapons as bowie knives and nunchuks.
Lt. W.J. Reed Jr. of the Virginia State Police told the panel the measure would also allow permits to be issued for machine guns, which gives the state police some heartburn.
Reed also said the measure could cause Virginia problems in neighboring states, with which it has reciprocal enforcement agreements.
"I'm concerned this bill might have unintended consequences," Gilbert said. On his motion, the panel referred the measure to the State Crime Commission for further study.
"It's a way to kill a bill nicely," Miller said afterward.
Earlier, advocates for closing the so-called "gun show loophole" urged lawmakers to act favorably on the perennial proposal this year.
Del. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) is again carrying a bill to require that people purchasing guns from a private seller at a gun show undergo a criminal background check. This would affect events such as the annual Labor Day event in Hillsville.
Under current law, those checks are required only in transactions with licensed gun dealers.
In years past, the House has defeated bills designed to require private sellers at guns shows to conduct the checks.
McClellan argued that people who otherwise would be barred from purchasing a firearm are aware they can avoid a background check if they buy from unlicensed vendors at gun shows.
"Does anybody with half a brain really believe" criminals aren't obtaining guns that way? she said. "It is a moral failure to intentionally ignore the reality of what's going on at these gun shows."
Joining McClellan at a news conference touting her bill were Lori Haas and Andrew Goddard, the parents of two students wounded in the April 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech.
Seventeen states require the checks.