Tuesday, March 27, 2007

You Talkin' to Me?


The arrest of an aide to Virginia Sen. Jim Webb for gun possession is bound to be a straight line for at least a few days. The poor guy -- a husband and father -- had to spend the night in jail for forgetting to drop off in Virginia a handgun and two full magazines.

What none of the news accounts I've read make abundantly clear is how easy it is for this sort of thing to happen in all innocence.

Virginia, which borders DC and is so close in every way that it even shares the city's subway system, is a "shall issue" state, which means that the right to be granted a permit to carry a concealed handgun is more or less inherent and can only be denied for narrow reasons. All you need to qualify for a permit is $50, demonstrate minimal shooting proficiency (taking a safety course from a shooting instructor), fill out some forms, prove residency, wait at least 45 days and make two trips to court (drop off forms, pick up permit). Furthermore, Virginia is an "open-carry" state: while a permit is needed to carry concealed it is legal for anyone who can own a gun to carry one it plain view virtually anywhere.

There is no restriction on gun ownership for anyone who has never been convicted of a crime, or has never been involuntarily committed to a mental institution, or has never been subject to a restraining order. Residents can buy virtually any kind of non-automatic gun, rifle or shotgun every thirty days. In some counties there is no waiting period if you go to a dealer who can make an instant "Brady" background check.

One of the big points raised in proficiency training is the danger of entering DC with any gun paraphernalia. An instructor of my acquaintance tells his students that he even maintained separate clothing to go into The District because a friend of his had once been arrested on a gun charge during a routine traffic stop when the police officer found a spent round in his pants cuff.

So Webb aide Phillip Thompson more than likely fell into that trap.

UPDATE: In brief remarks to reporters on Capitol Hill, Webb suggested that Thompson had inadvertently brought the weapon into town. “I think this is one of those very unfortunate situations where, completely inadvertently, he took the weapon into the Senate yesterday,” Webb said, according to The Hill.

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