Opinion

Virginia Lawmakers Have Voted to Ban Guns from the State Capitol Building

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Posted: Jan 10, 2020 8:30 PM
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Virginia Lawmakers Have Voted to Ban Guns from the State Capitol Building

Source: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

One wonders how Democrats in the Virginia legislature ever go to restaurants or movie theaters or grocery stores. Nine percent of Virginians have concealed handgun permits, and it is very likely that when they are out in public someone next to them is carrying a concealed handgun.

But as Democrats voted along straight party lines on Friday to ban people from carrying concealed handguns at the state Capitol, they worry, despite all evidence to the contrary, that there is a real danger to letting people continue carrying guns. This vote foreshadows Democrats' opposition to allowing people to defend themselves and their loved ones.

While Democrat House Speaker House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn can’t point any problems in their state Capitol, she claims that this ban is necessary “to keep everybody safe.” But it isn’t just that there hasn’t been a problem in Virginia where people have been able to carry for decades. There hasn’t been a problem in the other 22 states that allow legislators and/or civilians to carry guns on Capitol grounds.

Unfortunately, Virginians haven’t learned anything from attacks in their own state. The tragedy at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center last year fits an all too familiar pattern—yet another mass shooting in a place the victims were banned from carrying guns. The most lives are claimed in places where people can’t defend themselves on equal footing. It’s not a coincidence the attack occurred in a public building filled with public employees prohibited from carrying handguns, concealed or otherwise.  

That attack could have ended with much less bloodshed. Kate Nixon, a compliance manager at the municipal center, was concerned about a fellow employee and spoke with her husband the night before the attack about taking her permitted, concealed carry handgun to work. However, the city bans individuals, including public employees, from possessing “any weapon” on city property unless authorized by a supervisor so she decided against it. Unlike his law-abiding colleagues, the killer didn’t abide by the ban. Kate Nixon was one of the 12 people killed in the attack.

Or take the 2017 case in Virginia when Republican lawmakers came under fire during a baseball practice, and they were trapped by a tall fence with one exit. The Republican legislators only survived the shooting at their baseball practice because of Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s (R-LA) security detail, to which he was entitled as a member of the House leadership. There would have been a horrible massacre if not for the Capitol Police.

At least five of the congressmen had concealed handgun permits from their home states. At least one aide also revealed that he had a permit. But as Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, who was present at the attack, explained to me: “My residence is in the District of Columbia, which means that it would have been illegal for me to take my weapon with me to the ballpark—about a 9-mile bike ride—and it would have also been illegal for me to come from Virginia back into D.C. with my weapon.”

Of course, don’t forget the other Virginia mass public shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007 that left 32 murdered.

The problem with gun-free zones, which ban law-abiding civilians from carrying, is that they don’t exactly scare off criminals. In fact, they have just the opposite effect. Disarming everyone, including legislators or staffers, on their way to and from the buildings leaves them easy targets to criminals and terrorists. The murderers have an incentive to disobey the law precisely because the law-abiding obey it.

The 22 other states with more liberal regulations in their state Capitols haven’t experienced the problems Democrats fear.

For example, Kentucky allows permitted concealed carry in Legislative areas, including the Capitol. You must carry your gun openly if you attend a legislative meeting, though no permit is required.

In Texas, any concealed handgun permit holder can carry in the Capitol. Registered permit holders get to skip the metal detector, since they have already passed a criminal background check. After a while, lobbyists and journalists figured this out and got their own permits.

No one has been killed or injured by a gun legally brought into Capitol buildings.

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Since 1950, 94% of America’s public mass shootings have occurred in areas where guns are prohibited to the general public. In Europe, every mass shooting has happened in a gun-free zone.

Police are critical. Indeed, they are probably the single most important factor in reducing crime. But uniformed police have an extremely difficult job stopping terrorists, as they are often the first targets in any attack. The Capitol tries to solve this problem by having a lot of police, but anyone who has walked the halls of Congress knows that the Capitol Police aren’t everywhere.

Advocates of gun-free zones claim that permit holders will accidentally shoot bystanders. Or they say that arriving police will shoot the permit holders.

Nor have Virginia Democrats learned from the recent Texas church shooting that was stopped by a concealed handgun permit holder. What was only unusual about the Texas case was that it got news coverage. Indeed, concealed carry holders have stopped dozens of attacks that would have turned into mass public shootings in malls, churches, schools, universities and busy downtowns. Not once have these permit holders ever shot a bystander. Police virtually always arrive well after the attack has ended, so there isn’t confusion about whom to shoot.

Gun-free zones are magnets for murderers. Even most ardent gun control advocates would never put “Gun-Free Zone” signs on their homes. Let’s not ignore the evidence and let the fear that something might go wrong put lives in danger.

John Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author most recent of “The War of Guns.”