Category Archives: Gun rights

The Surreal Tensions With Russia

soldier in crimeaBy Peter Galuszka

Back in the 1950s, when I was a little kid living in North Carolina or the Washington area, our family would take a semi-annual trip to visit my father’s relatives in western Massachusetts. My grandparents lived in a nice two-story house with an old-style brick barbecue in the back but that wasn’t the thrill for me.

The reason I loved visiting was because of Westover Air Force Base, a Strategic Air Command facility on constant hair-trigger alert to blow the Soviet Union to kingdom come.

Gigantic B-52s would drill, roaring over the house on takeoff, sometimes in the middle of the night. Interspersed among them would be KC-135 tankers modeled on Boeing 707 jetliners. They would thunder over the house, shaking everything, at intervals of 30 seconds or maybe a couple of minutes. I was too young to understand but the reason they took off that way was to get the bombs in the air before the Russians could nuke the entire area, including my family and me. Use ‘em or lose ‘em.

So, more than 50 years later, it is bizarre to see Russia and the U.S. in their worst conflict since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis over Ukraine and Crimea. There are actually serious and intensely hedged think pieces online outlining what a modern day war between Moscow and Washington would look like. It could be a proxy war,  an air war but an ocean war is unlikely since the Black Sea is a bathtub and an American ship would be easy meat. The most likely worst case would be a NATO member on the border somehow getting involved and then we go in because we have to by treaty. If things ramp up, military-heavy Old Virginny will be high on the hit parade of love.

Every morning, I go through the surreal headlines about what seems to be Vladimir Putin’s shameless land grab. I agree with analysts who say this is time for firmness but patience. Conservative yahoos should chill their stupid upbraiding of Obama. He didn’t do this. In fact, he’s been much tougher with Putin than George W. ever was. And, there isn’t much he can do. Any doubts, look at a convenient map.

A few takeaways:

  • Putin’s not doing this to win over the Russian people. A poll shows that 73 percent of them want no part of military operations against Ukraine or Crimea.
  • It’s not clear that Putin is doing this to reinstate Viktor Yanukovich who was ousted as Ukrainian president in a street putsch in Kieva couple of weeks ago. Writing in today’s New York Times, Ruslan Pukhov of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies says that Putin actually favored former Ukrainian leader Yulia Tymoshenko, a darling of the West, who was released from prison when Yanukovich was ousted. This is not to say that Putin’s squeaky clean. He’s put plenty of people in prison, including, recently, Boris Nemtsov, a Russian liberal reformer.
  • The global economy can work against Putin. One of my biggest disappointments with the failure of 1980s and 1990s Russian reforms is that they have done little if anything to transform themselves from a fossil fuel kleptocracy into something more economically viable. They have enormous brainpower available but have squandered it. They need to get with the program and/or find someone to buy their oil and gas. The buyer doesn’t necessarily have to be Europe.
  • It’s awfully quiet there. There have been few if any reports of violence since the Crimea incursion began. That’s a far cry from a couple of weeks ago in Kiev. If he withdraws the extra forces, Putin can keep his Crimean bases anyway.

Somehow, I have faith that the fortitude and common sense of ordinary Russians and Ukrainians will prevail. They did when I witnessed, up front and personal, my very own coup in 1993 in Moscow that killed a few hundred (including almost me a couple of times) and wounded thousands. The skinhead guys in the camo fatigues running around with AKs looked very much like some of the characters I saw on TV in Kiev. If they can be kept at bay, the U.S. doesn’t overplay its hand and ignorant American conservatives shut their yap, maybe this madness will end.

Journalism’s Death Is Greatly Exaggerated

rachel_maddowBy Peter Galuszka

“Investigative reporting, R.I.P. In-depth reporting is dead. If not dead, it’s comatose. Reeling from declining revenue and eroding profit margins, print media enterprises continue to lay off staff and shrink column inches.”

Err, maybe not. James A. Bacon Jr., meet Rachel Maddow.

The quote comes from advertised “sponsorships” in which an outside entity can help fund reporting and writing on this blog. It’s a morphed form of traditional journalism and there’s nothing wrong with it, provided the funding source is made clear.

But what might be jumping the gun is the sweeping characterization that in-depth reporting is dead. That is precisely the point of Maddow’s monthly column in The Washington Post.

She notes that it was local traffic reporters and others who broke the story about Chris Christie’s finagling with toll booths to punish a political opponent. She shows evidence of other aggressive reporting in Connecticut and in South Carolina, where an intrepid reporter got up early one morning, drive 200 miles to the Atlanta airport and caught then disappeared Gov. Mark Sanford disembarking from an overseas flight to see his Latin American mistress when he had claimed he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Closer to home, it was the Post, which has seen more than 400 newsrooms layoffs over the past years, that broke GiftGate, the worst political scandal in Virginia in recent memory. The rest of the state press popped good stories, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch that has been somewhat reinvigorated despite nearly 10 years of corporate cheerleading and limp coverage under publisher Tom Silvestri. The departure of the disastrous former editor Glenn Proctor, Silvestri’s brainchild, helped a lot as did the sale of the paper by dysfunctional Media General to Warren Buffett.

To be sure, there are sad departures. The Hook, a Charlottesville alternative, did a great job reporting the forced and temporary ouster of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, but it has folded.

Funding, indeed, remains a huge problem, even at Bacon’s Rebellion where we all write pretty much for free. One solution, Maddow notes, happened in a tiny Arkansas town that found it was located over a decaying ExxonMobil fuel pipeline. The community raised funds to help hire more reporters to break through the news.

She suggests: “Whatever your partisan affiliation, or lack thereof, subscribe to your local paper today. It’s an act of civic virtue.”

Hear! Hear!

Thank God It’s Over: Seven Election Takeaways

cooch and macBy Peter Galuszka

The awful Virginia gubernatorial contest is over. Utter disaster has been averted with the defeat of strident rightwinger Kenneth Cuccinelli. Here are seven takeaways from Election Day:

1. Winner Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, now gets to deal with a contentious General Assembly where the GOP maintains firm control on the House of Delegates. The state may be stubbornly gridlock prone come January.

2. Amid all the confusion over implementing the Affordable Car Act, McAuliffe must do something for the 400,000 or so needy Virginians who can’t get federal health insurance subsidies. One reason is that Virginia’s conservatives have rejected expanding Medicaid. Good luck to McAuliffe on his coming effort to reverse this.

3. It should be crystal clear from Tuesday’s voting patterns that the Old Dominion has moved beyond the Tea Party craze and their various machinations. Moderate Republicans need to find some backbone and clean out the Tea Party types who manipulated the party convention that got rid of a winnable Bill Bolling and replaced him with losers like Cuccinelli and E.W. Jackson, who got creamed in the lieutenant governor’s race.

4. Once again, suburban and urban Virginians have shown that they hold the keys to power. The Walton family types from the rural hills may be perennially “red,” but they are fading into history much like that television show’s reruns.

5. Soon, we should learn whether Gov. Robert F. McDonnell will be indicted on corruption charges. Richmond’s focus needs to turn to ethics reform and the work of creating real institutions for dealing with these kinds of issues, such as a State Ethics Commission, although I realize this is unlikely.

6. Virginia has a ton of real problems such as the need to create sustainable jobs to wean the state away from an increasingly unreliable federal government sector. Roads remain a huge issue, as does maintaining and improving education, and pushing smarter growth planning policies.

That’s enough for the moment, but there is some good news I need to throw in:

7. Now that Cuccinelli is out of the way, the state won’t have to be sidetracked by the infuriating fringe issues that come along with him, such his climate change denial, assaults on women’s rights, bashing gays and immigrants and tendency to blame the government for everything wrong with the state.

The jury’s still out on a flawed McAuliffe, but let the healing and rebuilding begin.

Navy Lays on Small Fleet for Hanks Flick

090413-M-3079S-081By Peter Galuszka

For dramatic five days in April 2009, four Somali pirates held the crew of the Norfolk-based container ship Maersk Alabama before escaping with Captain Rich Phillips in the ship’s international orange-colored lifeboat.

It seemed a selfless and heroic act in the treacherous waters around the impoverished Horn of Africa. Among other supplies, the Alabama was carrying vital food and fresh water supplies to Kenya.

Eventually, the U.S. Navy caught up with the lifeboat as it was being shadowed by the Alabama, including two destroyers and an amphibious assault aircraft carrier. The ordeal ended when one pirate left the lifeboat to “negotiate” and Navy SEAL snipers then shot the three other pirates as they sat in the cramped life boat.

On Friday, “Captain Phillips,” a movie representation starring Tom Hanks, was released to great critical acclaim by Sony Pictures. In its first weekend the movie grossed $26 million, putting it second place after the space flick “Gravity.”

This is all great for Hollywood and also for the Navy, which besides Tom Hanks, are the heroes of the story. They act professionally, efficiently and are deadly. Green light and “pop, pop, pop.” Three headshots. The Somalis make easy villains. They are not motivated by religious hatred or terrorism but simple greed.

Indeed, what’s not to like for the U. S. Navy which also scores well in the recent “Zero Dark Thirty?” The SEALS are certainly barking.

The question is why taxpayers seem to be getting stuck with the bill when hundreds of thousands of civilian workers, including many military contractors in Virginia, are being furloughed because Congress can’t agree on a budget. We also have conservatives raging against needless government spending.

According to The Virginian-Pilot, a Navy admiral met with executive producer Gregory Goodman in Los Angeles when the film was being planned in 2012 and offered red carpet treatment if they went to Norfolk.

Off to Tidewater they went, secretly, in June 2012. True to its word, the Navy laid on the USS Wasp, a small aircraft carrier to stand in for the USS Boxer that participated in the rescue. The Destroyer USS Truxton played the Bainbridge. The frigate USS Halyburton that was in the real rescue, got to play itself.

Besides the ships, which maneuvered off the Virginia coast for the movie, there were real Navy sailors along with the actors, not to mention Seahawk helicopters and even an unmanned drone.

It’s a thrilling and moving movie. I didn’t find out exactly what the film cost the Navy or if it was reimbursed for renting its ships.Bloomberg’s Political Capital says the Navy provided the three ships because they were on training missions anyway plus a SEAL Master Chief for two weeks to make sure depictions were accurate. The Navy says there was no taxpayer money involved, Political Capital reports.

Still, when you munch your popcorn while watching Hanks’ fine acting, remember, you may be paying for more than the price of a ticket.

UPDATE: The Navy got back to me Tuesday after I called them on Monday. Their PIO office was on vacation for Columbus Day. They were not happy with my posting. Lt. Lauryn Demspey said that my last sentence was misleading. The use of the warships cost the U.S. taxpayers nothing, she says. The Navy has offices in Los Angeles and the Pentagon tasked with vetting movie scripts for possible assistance. They liked “Captain Phillips” and made available assistance,. including the warships, which she says, were going to be off the Virginia coast anyway on maneuvers. The Navy did bill Sony Pictures for some extraneous items, such as the use of cranes for loading film and equipment, a man chair and the use of a dumpster. I am grateful for the new information.

 

The Ironies of Tom Clancy

Tomclancy2By Peter Galuszka

The timing is extremely odd, but the death of techno-thriller author Tom Clancy came this week just when federal workers were being furloughed by the hundreds of thousands through Capitol Hill gridlock.

Clancy, who died in Baltimore at 66, did much in the 1980s to makes heroes of the men and women who served the government as military personnel, contractors or intelligence agency operatives and analysts. Technology helped make them great.

It was a substantial cultural transformation. The government had taken some very bad hits during the Vietnam War for wanton killing of civilians and lying to the American people. Nixon ruined trust with Watergate. Jimmy Carter (although an Annapolis graduate) epitomized Washington incompetence.

Then a B-list actor and advertising pitchman named Ronald Reagan made the military and fancy gizmos romantic and desirable again as he pushed one of the largest peacetime defense buildups ever. It was Reagan who helped make Clancy a literary star by praising his first novel, “The Hunt for Red October,” which was loosely based on a Soviet destroyer captain who tried to defect in the Baltic Sea with his ship.

While Clancy’s characters were always simple, shallow and predictable, they were extremely likeable. Thus, he boosted the D.C., Maryland and Virginia region that is heavily dependent upon federal jobs. If you had grown up with the military and lived anywhere around the area, you could easily recognize the scenes: Hampton Boulevard running up to the Naval Base in Norfolk, Pautuxent Naval Air Station in Southern Maryland, the Marine Base and FBI training center at Quantico and, of course, the bucolic setting of the CIA at Langley.

Clancy’s characters were typically stand-up men and women who preferred serving their country to more selfish endeavors like making money, although super hero Jack Ryan apparently made millions on Wall Street before giving it up to become a CIA analyst and global trouble shooter. His sexy and smart wife was a highly-successful eye surgeon.

Many of the characters were Irish Catholics from Baltimore and rooted for the Colts or the Ravens and sometimes the Redskins. You had your occasional token African-American or Japanese-American, in one case an ugly F-15 jet fighter pilot who was a woman.

The bad guys were carbon copies of fascists, commies and cruel-hearted dictators. At the time when his first novels were coming out, I was posted in the Soviet Union as a news correspondent. They made for great and light reading on the long plane rides over.

But once I got to know more about Moscow and other Evil Empire spots, I realized just how goofy Clancy really was. Real Russians didn’t talk the way he set up his dialogue. The timing was also way off. “The Cardinal of the Kremlin”of the 1980s  was based on 1960s master spy Oleg Penkovsky who was executed around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. One hotshot, female CIA operative who got the eye for cheering her son on at a Moscow hockey game was actually based on a real CIA officer who got caught in a much more mundane way by  sloppily leaving secrets near a major rail bridge over the Moscow River.

One problem was that Clancy was stealing examples from years before as the Soviet Union was changing extremely quickly and then crumbling. I always made that connection when I tucked my over-heated Clancy novel away in my bag when I landed at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport and faced the passport and customs control officials of what was really a Third World country (albeit one with rockets).

For that matter, Clancy’s “SOSUS” network  of underwater microphones spanning the Atlantic in the 1980s to listen for Russian submarines had actually been set up in the 1950s.

Even so, technology was the real hero in Clancy’s novels. It was just in time for the 1980s. After stagflation and economic misery, Reagan’s government spending was creating a real Keynesian and defense-based economic boom (leaving a lot of debt, no matter what conservatives say today). Personal computers were starting to overtake mainframes and the Internet was in its infancy. A lot of the gear actually did come from the military and Clancy exploited this like the master reporter he was.

Naturally, the technology was nearly Godlike in its infallibility. It ALWAYS worked regardless whether it was a space-based laser, an underwater sonobuoy or an ultra-fast microburst radio transmitter. American grunts were always brave. Pilots never mistakenly bombed civilians. Clancy’s later work was a lot weaker, involving barely disguised advertising tomes for various parts of the defense machine.

Personally, Clancy did not seem like a nice man. A chubby, near-sighted insurance salesman who lived for years in Maryland’s rural Calvert County, he always seemed to have an inferiority complex that he made up for by shooting off pistols with the FBI or creating admirable military and spy officials that he never could be.

He was perhaps the biggest and best marketer for Virginia and his home state of Maryland. So, it is indeed ironic that the conservatives who adored Clancy and his comic book world likewise hate the very same federal workers and the government that employs them. They are now being punished for Congress’s lack of political skill.

The Cooch and the Pope

popeBy Peter Galuszka

“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” says Pope Francis, leader of the globe’s Roman Catholics, regarding abortion, gays and contraception.

One wonders if Ken Cuccinelli gets the message. Or maybe even Bob McDonnell. The attorney general and Republican gubernatorial candidate and the sitting governor have worn their stridently conservative Catholic views on their sleeves for years.

Abusing his office, Cuccinelli has taken strong positions to punish homosexuals and make legal abortion much less available. McDonnell likewise has been shutting down women’s health clinics and became a national laughingstock in 2012 for the trans-vaginal fiasco.

Now you have the Church’s new pope signalling a major shift away from these wedge issues that have alienated millions of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Conservative Catholics have long embraced sexually related issues as a way to hold what they consider an eroding ethical line. But in doing so, they are ignoring equally important issues such as social justice and keeping the church’s thinking medieval.

Francis is a breath of fresh air after his reactionary predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, a strict doctrinaire who forced a policy of exclusivity in the Church that was very harmful. Ditto the rock star Polish Pope.

It is ironic that Francis has ascended not long after Bishop Walter Sullivan, the former head of the Diocese of Richmond, died. From the 1970s until 2002, Sullivan, a Washington native, pushed his liberal views regardless of who was offended in this highly right wing state. He was as against abortion as any Catholic clergyman but he extended the thinking on the sanctity of life to include prisoners on death row, according to recent biography, “The Good Bishop” by veteran author and essayist Phyliss Theroux who lives in Ashland.

I recently reviewed her book for Style Weekly.

Sullivan, who died Dec. 11 at age 84, was incensed that former Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr. took to executions with relish after the Supreme Court reinstituted the death penalty in 1976. Since then, Virginia has put to death 110 convicts, giving it a rank of No. 2 in the country after Texas. Sullivan drew attention to the issue by attending every execution he could.

In the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was running up the defense budget to best “The Evil Empire,” Sullivan actually told a well-to-do parish heavy with military contractors in Virginia Beach that it was wrong to be associated with the making of nuclear weapons. It sparked outrage and also landed Sullivan on the cover of Rolling Stone.

The current Bishop of Richmond who replaced Sullivan is a traditionalist who has rolled back many of Sullivan’s outreach initiatives to gays, women, convicts and the poor. One wonders how he will respond to the Pope’s vision. The New York Times says the Old Guard will likely pretend Pope Francis did not say what he did.

There may also be an impact on Virginia politics since the key top players tend to be Catholic. Besides Cuccinelli and McDonnell, Terry McAuliffe and Tim Kaine are, although they espouse a much more inclusive version of the faith.

The most strident is Cuccinelli who attended Gonzaga High School, a Jesuit school in D.C. (Full disclosure, I graduated from another Jesuit high school in the D.C. area and hardly share Cuccinelli’s views.)

To some extent, Cuccinelli has toned down the anti-gay rhetoric, but one only has to review his record as attorney general and in the state Senate to see where he stands.

Who knows, maybe he could form a new Catholic church just as some arch-conservative Episcopalians did. In any event, it looks like the Church is at the start of some badly needed changes.

The Cooch’s Freak Show Dream Team

cooch dream teamBy Peter Galuszka

Ken Cuccinelli just can’t keep away from the bizarre, but perhaps that’s what makes him what he is.

He stages a convention instead of a primary to neuter Bill Bolling. And since a convention is smaller, it draws more GOP hard-righters than  June bugs on a humid night and they succeed in getting Bishop E.W. Jackson and Mark Obenshain selected. They underline the social conservatism that turns millions off and makes Virginia the butt of jokes on late night talk shows.

The Bishop is an even bigger gay basher than Cuccinelli and says that Planned Parenthood is responsible for more fatalities among African-Americans than the Ku Klux Klan. This may be new to a Harvard Law graduate, but women of any color have a legal right to an abortion within limits. The U.S. Supreme Court said so. Look under Roe vs. Wade.

Then there is the attorney general candidate Mark Obenshain of the legacy Republican family. He proposed and withdrew legislation to require any woman in Virginia who miscarries a pregnancy to report it to the police. The idea is so repulsive it is beyond words. A woman may have miscarried to her great sorrow due to medical reasons and then would have to go through the added horror of having to report to the police? Yes, this comes from a cabal that otherwise wants to keep the government out of your lives. Even Josef Stalin wouldn’t think of this.

What does the dream team have to say on the many policy issues facing a troubled state? We have a bunch of lame and poorly thought out tax cuts and Cooch playing hardware store populist. Cuccinelli was against McDonnnell’s mammoth road building tax plan and has since backed away from his opposition.

Is this good news for Terry McAuliffe, who has plenty of issues of his own? Yes, I would think. Cuccinelli doesn’t need the fringe hard right voters. He’s already got them in his pocket. He needs the center and Mark and the Bishop aren’t going to be much help there.

It boggles the mind how Virginia is so schizo. It is attracting hundreds of thousands of newcomers who are running the state’s economy and are dragging it into the 21st century world. Yet the Republicans put up people like this who aren’t dragging us to Virginia’s recent dark past but to medieval times.

Global investors might think twice or three times before investing in this freak show.

McAuliffe: Can a Schmoozer Transform?

By Peter Galuszka

On Easter Sunday, I was driving in a cold rain to Charlottesville for a family event. My cell phone started beeping with messages from Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Terry McAuliffe.

He said he was on his way to his own family brunch but wanted to tap me for $5. I got similar messages from two other staffers.

Why bother me at Easter? Political analyst Larry Sabato wondered the same thing. In a tweet that day he complained about finding “11 obnoxious messages for $$$. Now I know the answer to the age old Q; Is nothing sacred?”

And that may be McAuliffe’s biggest problem as he faces arch-conservative Ken Cuccinelli in the off-year governor’s race. In my profile of him in Style Weekly, I note that McAuliffe is trying to rein in an expansive personality that has made him a top political schmoozer and fundraiser for Democrats from Jimmy Carter to Bill and Hillary Clinton.

A decades’ long political operative who has never been in elected office, he can be bombastic and smooth, as his recent dealings with GreenTech Automotive shows. He flirted with Virginia for a hybrid  car plant before going to Mississippi. He has been accused of somehow using the car plant to win special visas for foreign workers and maybe misleading the Virginia Economic Development Partnership about his intentions in the Old Dominion.

Meanwhile, he must overcome some of his misunderstandings of traditional Virginia thinking. However, it’s probably a good thing that he’s going to skip the Shad Planking in Wakefield tonight with its Confederate flags where Cuccinelli will be keynote speaker.

While polls are about 50-50 in the race, McAuliffe’s fundraising prowess has shown brightly. In the first quarter, he raised more than $5 million — more than double the take of Cuccinelli, who has hamstrung by not being allowed raise money during the General Assembly session because of his position as Attorney General. Read on…

(Also, here as a Q&A with McAuliffe)

“One Piece At a Time”

By Peter Galuszka

Straying from the Virginia plantation, I’ve been noticing how Cyprus, a small historic island nation in the Mediterranean Sea, is once again acting the tail wagging the Euro-system dog and is affecting the finances of many farflung people.

The Euro-crisis has taken hold in tiny Cyprus, forcing such draconian suggestions as a tax on all bank accounts and account closings. The uncertainty, once again, has rattled global markets and is affecting the investments of millions, including mine.

The reality of Cyprus is that much of the hot money there, according to Joe Nocera of The New York Times, is from Russia where a paucity of rule of law encourages rich Russians to park their cash elsewhere lest it be confiscated by Vladimir Putin or who knows whom else.

Cyprus has long been a jumping off place for questionable Soviet or Russian activities for decades., be they illegal arms, drugs or dollars.

Example, back in the mid 1990s, when I was an American news correspondent in Moscow, I got to travel to Izhevsk, an industrial town in the central province of Udmurtia a couple of hours by air from the capital.

Izhevsk had been closed for many years to foreign visitors because it is the home of the Kalashnikov assault rifle and other vital defense plants. The city had something like five main factories where various forms of the venerable AK were made, although plenty were made under license in countries such as China, Romania and Poland.

The day my photographer and I got there, the city was in turmoil. A high ranking police officer and most of his family, including a couple of his children who were themselves police officers, were slaughtered at his birthday party by Kalashnikov-wielding thugs who broke into his apartment.

The police official was about to launch a major crackdown on the illegal gun trade that had gotten out of control when the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991. It was an open secret in Izhevsk that factory workers were siphoning off gun parts in their lunch pails, sort of like in the Johnny Cash song about the pilfered car, “Once Piece at a Time.”

Many of the gun parts ended up, you guessed it, in Cyprus, where underground plants reassembled the AKs for sale on the world market.

We stayed in town long enough for the funeral of the police officers which was attended by 30,000 people.

Mind you, this happened almost 20 years ago. What’s sad is that this kind of sleazy dealing is still going on between Cyprus and Russia and the rest of us are affected. One can’t help put think of the euphoria that came when the Euro was adopted and how it has turned out to be a total disaster.

Is Virginia a Leader in Gun Control?

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.