RICHMOND, Va. — Hundreds of gun-toting citizens gathered at the state Capitol Monday to rally for gun rights, saying mass shootings like those in Arizona and Virginia are no excuse for "destroying the Constitution."
The rally was in support of bills that, if passed, would place Virginia among states with the weakest gun controls in the nation. One bill would do away with the requirement to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun, while others would exempt guns made in Virginia from federal regulation and make permits issued in any state good in Virginia.
A moment of silence was held for the victims of the Jan. 8 shooting in Arizona that left six dead and 13 wounded, including a congresswoman. Gun-rights supporters said that tragedy, like the killing of 32 students and faculty at Virginia Tech in 2007, wrongly places the focus on guns when both were caused by people with mental problems.
"Nobody has the right to ruin lives like that despicable person did," said Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Prince William, speaking of the Arizona shooter. "But folks, the answer cannot be found in destroying the Constitution because someone abuses it."
Later in the day, dozens of gun control supporters gathered in the same spot to remember Martin Luther King Jr. and to fight against bills to relax gun laws. After prayers, speeches and quotes from King were read aloud, about 70 people lay down in protest for three minutes, the average time it takes to purchase a gun.
Lori Haas, whose daughter survived being shot at Virginia Tech, said she hoped the recent shooting may help change some legislators' minds. Bills to limit gun rights traditionally have been hard sells in Virginia.
"Sadly, in this country and in Virginia the number doesn't matter," she said. "It's not how many have to die. Sadly, it may be who has to die."
Philip Van Cleave, president of the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League, said many gun owners are concerned that gun rights will be under attack because of the recent shooting.
"Is the issue guns — a piece of metal — or is the issue the person behind the gun that's using it unlawfully?" Van Cleave said as police on horseback, bike and foot looked on. " ... In the end that's all it boils down to: It's all about the person and not the inanimate object."
Del. Clay Athey's bill would do away with the need for a concealed handgun permit and instead require someone carrying a concealed weapon to inform an officer "as soon as practicable" if he is detained.
Alaska, Arizona and Vermont are the only states that do not require a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
"If you've never committed any criminal act and you're a law-abiding citizen, since you can already carry legally outside, what difference would it make if you carry it outside this coat versus inside this coat?" said Athey, R-Warren.
A proposal by Del. Charles Carrico, R-Grayson, would allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit issued from another state to carry a hidden gun in Virginia. Virginia already recognizes permits issued in more than half the states.
There are about a dozen states that recognize all other states' concealed handgun permits.
Carrico also brought back another proposal to exclude firearms manufactured in Virginia from federal law. A similar bill failed last year.
Sen. W. Roscoe Reynolds, a gun-rights Democrat, on Monday withdrew his bill that would have allowed individuals who have received in-house mental health or substance abuse treatment to appeal to the court to have their gun rights restored before waiting the five years that law demands.
Reynolds said there was misunderstanding about what the bill intended to do, and it was not something he wanted to try to accomplish in a short, hurried session.
Reynolds and Republican Del. C. Todd Gilbert also have proposals to allow those who have a preliminary protective order against them to be able to purchase and carry a gun as long as a court hasn't found that they abused the person who sought protection.
Reynolds said the bill was needed because of a Martinsville case in which a woman who was the victim of a violent crime bought a handgun then had a protective order issued against her for not taking her child to school. She was charged with a felony.
Several anti-gun bills also have been filed.
Del. Jennifer McClellan once again introduced a bill to close the so-called "gun-show loophole," which allows private sales at gun shows without the background checks that dealers must perform. McClellan called the proposal a common sense approach to keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.
"The Second Amendment is just like every other amendment. It should be limited based on public safety," said McClellan, D-Richmond. "There are limits to every right."
Other bills would ban handguns in libraries and in the state Capitol and the General Assembly Building where committee meetings are held.
Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington who sponsored the Capitol gun ban, said the shooting in Tucson should cause all public officials to re-examine their safety.
"I find it a little bit offensive that they are offering bills that would protect themselves and protect their places of business," Haas said. "We want protection for all citizens."
Ian Branson of Vienna said the shooting in Arizona is unfortunate, but limiting citizens' freedom isn't the answer. He supports all the attempts to ease gun laws.
"We are 100 percent determined to get firearms laws reduced to the point that 'shall not be infringed' is the law of the land," Branson said.