Committee Gives Swift Kick to F.C. Leaders By 9-5
Falls Church City Councilman Hal Lippman told his colleagues Tuesday that he was “not prepared” for the rude cultural shock he encountered going to Richmond earlier that day to testify in favor of a gun control bill before a Senate committee. “I was stunned,” he said.
Senate Bill 300, introduced by State Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple on behalf of the Falls Church City Council, called for giving localities the option to ban dangerous weapons in government facilities, including libraries, City Hall and recreation centers.
But despite Virginia Democrats winning control of the State Senate for the first time in years this month, Lippman said he found a surly, unsympathetic response in the Senate Local Governments Committee, which, with the help of some Democrats on the committee, defeated the measure by a vote of 9-5.
Lippman and Falls Church Police Chief Harry Reitze testified before the committee, after being introduced by Whipple. They were joined by Falls Church’s Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester.
In an unusual development, Lippman’s testimony was interrupted loudly by State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg). Lippman was recounting the incident four years ago in Falls Church, when pro-gun advocates packed the Falls Church City Council Chamber, the result of an on-line mobilization.
They showed up displaying handguns to protest an administrative decision by the late City Manager Dan McKeever, authorizing Falls Church police to require anyone in a public building to show identification. Lippman noted that the incident was highly intimidating to everyone in the chamber.
“Did anyone get hurt?,” Obenshain interrupted. “No,” Lippman said. He noted the bill was introduced in the wake of last year’s Virginia Tech tragedy. He said Falls Church “has experienced persons wearing guns, walking into our library and Council chambers with the sole intent of intimidating staff and elected officials and, in the case of our library, frightening children and their parents.”
Chief Reitze followed Lippman on the podium, telling the committee that it is important for officer safety that localities be able to set the parameters for where weapons can or cannot legally be carried. He stressed it is also important, in cases where a jurisdiction is also required to provide security for utilities, such as a large water system.
Defending the right of citizens to carry dangerous weapons into public buildings, one legislator said he needed to be armed in his long walks to and from the state capital. But it was not determined until after the hearing, in a query by the Falls Church delegation to state police officials, that it is currently unlawful to carry open weapons into the state capital building.
“They are not willing to give us, local government officials and the public, the same protection they give themselves,” Lippman noted.
Another legislator quipped that it is as easy to kill someone with a ball point pen as with a gun, therefore guns should not be singled out for a prohibition.
After the testimony by Lippman and Chief Reitze, representatives of three groups including the National Rifle Association and two statewide pro-gun organizations, spoke against the bill.
The hearing and the vote were over in 15 minutes, reported Mester. “Sen. Whipple was deft in getting us to be the first item on the committee agenda. So we drove to Richmond, walked into the capital, without waiting had 15 minutes with the committee and were done. We just turned around, walked back to our car and came home.”
“We were treated in a very dismissive way,” said Lippman. “This is a very ideologically-driven issue on this committee.” Due to a technicality, the committee remains Republican-controlled despite the overall control of the Senate by the Democrats, Mester pointed out. Two Democrats voted with seven Republicans to create the 9-5 margin.
This is the first year that the bill was introduced by a friendly legislator on behalf of Falls Church. The previous 11 years of unsuccessful attempts were on behalf of Fairfax County.
Two other bills before the same committee, sponsored by State Sen. Mamie Locke of Hampton, pushing separate for gun bans in libraries and recreation centers, are expected to meet the same fate as Falls Church’s.
Commenting on Lippman’s report at Tuesday’s Falls Church City Council work session, Councilman David Snyder said he was concerned about the future of such legislative efforts in the future if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the District of Columbia’s gun law.
“Police are in an arms race with criminals, and it doesn’t bode well for any of us,” he noted.