By Peter Galuszka
For all of the sound and fury over guns in Virginia — panicked shooters are draining firearms shops of ammunition — the Old Dominion actually has been a leader among states on the gun control issue on a couple of fronts.
For details, see my story in this week’s Style Weekly.
First, Richmond was in the forefront of a much-imitated program back in the 1990s called “Project Exile” which carried mandatory federal prison terms for any felon caught in a crime.
Back in the day, Richmond’s central area was racking up the second highest murder rate in the country. The problem started with an inner-city crack cocaine epidemic and then morphed into an OK Corral motif when a lot of kids started carrying guns and using them whenever their blood got hot during a macho argument.
Project Exile worked, former Richmond Police Chief Jerry Oliver told me, because it addressed “so much gun carrying among immature young males who were unschooled and unchurched.”
To be sure, there were criticisms that Project Exile had racial tinges because it was directed at mostly young African-Americans in Richmond’s central area. Civil rights lawyers told me that they watched a kid go to jail because he had a gun on him while he was caught with a marijuana joint in his pocket. At the same time, the leading proponents of Project Exile, such as Richmond’s then Commonwealth’s Attorney and Chief Oliver are also African-Americans.
Programs like these lose their relevancy in the case of mass shootings of the Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook type which involve legally-bought guns and shooters with distinct mental illnesses. Oliver told me that in many of those cases, the shooter often doesn’t care if he gets caught because he may well intend to kill himself in the fray.
What helps is keeping a federal registry with lists of names of people considered ill enough with mental issues to make themselves dangerous if they have guns. This goes on a National Instant Criminal Background Check System that licensed gun dealers need to check before selling a firearm.
The Wall Street Journal reports that many states don’t bother supplying the system with much data. But guess which state supplies the most? Virginia.
That’s right. The Old Dominion, led by former Gov. Time Kaine and then Atty. Gen. Robert F. McDonnell (bipartisanship anyone?) actually made sure that lots of names made the list after the Virginia Tech horrors.
Of course, the list is useless at gun shows where sellers and buyers don’t have a legal requirement to check someone’s background before selling a gun. That will be addressed by President Barack Obama’s reform proposals.
Virginia’s efforts are sensible measures to ensure safety with guns. You wouldn’t know by looking at the General Assembly where legislators are ripping apart any proposal for reform. As for shooters, they are cleaning out the ammo stores. What amazes me is they’re even making a run at .22 caliber Long Rifle rounds. They can be deadly but they are the type of bullet I used to use to hunt squirrels with using my bolt-action, single shot rifle when I was 11 years old. Go figure.