By Deirdre Fernandes
© March 17, 2010
Calling guns in bars a "recipe for disaster," the state's police chiefs have pleaded with Gov. Bob McDonnell to veto legislation that would ease Virginia's concealed weapon laws.
Virginia Beach police Chief Jake Jacocks Jr. sent a letter to McDonnell last week on behalf of the state association of chiefs comparing the combination of firearms and alcohol with drinking and driving.
"We can fully expect that at some point in the future a disagreement that today would likely end up in a verbal confrontation, or a bar fight, will inevitably end with gunfire if you sign this legislation into law," Jacocks wrote.
SB334's requirement that anybody with a gun is prohibited from drinking and could be charged with a misdemeanor is "absurd," Jacocks said, and can't be enforced.
On Tuesday, Jacocks got support from Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms, a McDonnell supporter and gun owner.
"Not only is it stupid," Sessoms said, "I think it could be a fatal mistake."
But their efforts seem unlikely to sway McDonnell.
McDonnell will sign the bill, said Taylor Thornley, the governor's spokeswoman. While McDonnell appreciates the work and comments of the police chiefs, he will "continue to protect and uphold the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens," Thornley said.
The bill deals only with concealed weapons; in Virginia it's legal to carry a gun openly without a permit.
SB334 and its House counterpart, along with legislation that allows gun owners without concealed-carry permits to store firearms in locked vehicle compartments, were among the gun-friendly bills approved by the General Assembly this year. The Democratic-controlled Senate formed a special subcommittee late in the session to kill several gun-rights bills, including a repeal of the state's one-handgun-purchase-a-month limit.
The police chiefs association has opposed the guns in bars bill in the past, but it also had a more sympathetic ear. Former Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine twice vetoed such bills.
The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police didn't come out strongly against the bills during the session because it was spread too thin trying to preserve state funding for police departments, said Dana Schrad, the organization's executive director.
"We didn't duck and cover on this one," Schrad said. "We had to prioritize on budget issues."
The Virginia Sheriffs' Association, the other large law-enforcement lobby in the General Assembly, did not take a stand on the legislation, said John Jones, the organization's executive director.
"No, we're not going down that road," Jones said.
But association members recently did vote on a resolution supporting Second Amendment rights, Jones said.
Jacocks and Schrad did acknowledge that the letter was a last-ditch effort.
"It was important to let him know directly how we felt about this issue," Jacocks said.
If police across Virginia see an increase in gun violence at bars, the association will come back and ask the General Assembly to reconsider its decision, Schrad said.
Statistics on gun-related incidents at establishments with liquor licenses were not available Tuesday.