McDonnell quietly issues directive allowing open carry of firearms in state parks
Gun rights advocates celebrated Wednesday--and supporters of gun control grieved--over news that Gov. Robert F. McDonnell has quietly lifted the ban against people carrying firearms openly in state parks.
Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, sent an e-mail blast to fellow gun-rights supporters with news that as of Tuesday people could carry openly. Gun owners with concealed weapons permits had the right to carry in Virginia State Parks for some time, but never openly, he said.
In a letter dated Jan. 14, McDonnell (R) directed the Department of Conservation & Recreation to cease enforcing regulations prohibiting open carry. The governor, referring to an opinion he had formulated as attorney general in September 2008 at the request of then-Sen. Kenneth Cuccinelli (R), said the agency had exceeded its statutory authority in banning people from carrying firearms openly.
Fireworks are still prohibited in state parks, and alcohol is banned except in "private areas" such as cabins or campsites, according to the agency's Web site. There was no mention of guns on the site.
"These regulations once finally approved would simply allow law abiding Virginians who legally own a firearm to exercise the same rights in a Virginia state forest or state park that they already possess while elsewhere in the Commonwealth," said J. Tucker Martin, a spokesman for the governor. Martin said the governor has also given initial approval to a proposed regulatory change allowing concealed carry and open carry in state forests. Those proposed regulations are in the process of going to the public comment stage, he said.
Gun-control advocates were not pleased at the new policy or the way McDonnell carried it out.
"I think he tried to sneak it by," said Andy Goddard, who heads the Virginia Center for Public Safety. His son, Colin Goddard, survived gunshot wounds during the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007.
"I'm not surprised at what Gov. McDonnell's done, because he's in the back pocket of the NRA,' said Lori Haas, whose daughter also survived the attack. "But I think to do this without any sort of public knowledge or public comment is contrary to some of his campaign statements on transparency."
She also predicted that the move will have a chilling effect on the tourism business.
"Can you imagine the family with young children who look over to the campsite next door where the person is openly carrying an AR-15?" she said.
Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw shrugged.
"I'm not surprised--I'm only surprised it took him a whole year," Saslaw said, noting that President Obama has backed off gun control as an issue. Last year, the federal government lifted restrictions on carrying firearms in national parks.
"Do I agree? No," Saslaw said. "But it's hard to climb all over him when Obama's done the same thing at the federal level."
--Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this item.
| January 19, 2011; 3:50 PM ET
Categories: Fredrick Kunkle, Robert F. McDonnell
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