By Peter Galuszka
Late morning near Ashland, the shopping crowd of mostly middle-aged white men is busy poring over the wares at Green Top Sporting Goods. Although it is only late July, hunting season looms and buyers are checking guns and rifles of all types and sizes. Also on display are scores of handguns, mostly automatics, in glass cases. In the corner behind the counter are assault-style, semi-automatic rifles in evil-looking metal and plastic.
In one aisle, a boy of about 13 picks up a bolt-action hunting rifle with a scope. “Look dad, this one can go to 1,000 yards,” he says.
Green Top has been a local landmark since 1947 in its familiar green-roofed building on U.S. 1 just north of Richmond. The building will shut down within about a year and Green Top, which also offers lots of fishing gear, will move about a mile away to a big box store already closed by Gander Mountain Co. Both are not far from yet another big gun dealer, Bass Pro Shops.
The two chain stores are noteworthy these days. James Holmes, who allegedly shot and killed 12 and wounded 59 in a mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater, bought his weapons at local outlets of Gander Mountain and Bass Pro Shops.
At Gander Mountain, Holmes picked up a Smith and Wesson .233 semi-automatic rifle and a .40 caliber Glock pistol. At Bass Pro Shops, he got a Remington 870 shotgun. Somehow, he allegedly snuck all three firearms, along with thousands of rounds of bullets he bought on the Internet, into a midnight showing of “Dark Knight Rises” while wearing bizarre, combat-looking regalia.
In Virginia, there’s nothing essentially wrong with firearms since the state has many square miles of excellent hunting land. Yet the gun mentality is very strong. The Colorado killings are strangely drawing little comment. Even more strange is that the theater killings still don’t match the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings that ended up with the shooter and 32 others dead. Still, Colorado doesn’t come up much.
The Virginia Tech terror lurked in the background on Feb. 28 when Gov. Robert F. McDonnell signed into law a repeal of 1993 statute that limited the purchase of more than one handgun every 30 days. The law had been a signature bill by former Gov. Doug Wilder who was incensed that Virginia had been funneling illegal firearms into large northern cities.
Conservative forces and Second Amendment activists had lobbied for years to get rid of the ban. Families of Virginia Tech victims begged McDonnell not to go along with the General Assembly although he had backed ending the repeal. Before he signed the repeal into law, his staff dutifully alerted reporters. But the usually talkative McDonnell made no statement. As is the case now, the silence was maintained.