Thursday, March 29, 2007

Look out, Webb's Got a Gun!!!

My column from Thursday, March 29, 2007 Potomac News, "Look Out, Webb's Got A Gun":

Look out, Webb's got a gun
Charles Reichley
Thursday, March 29, 2007

On Monday, James Thompson, an aide to Virginia Senator James Webb, was arrested carrying a loaded gun into the Senate Office building in Washington D.C. Thompson spent a night in jail for carrying a pistol without a license. That was one night too many.

Senator Webb is a strong supporter of gun rights. He has a concealed carry permit, and a strong rating from the National Rifle Association. And Virginia is a good state for gun owners. The District, on the other hand, has banned guns. A federal appeals court recently found the ban unconstitutional, but for now it is still law. If you get caught with a gun, you will be punished for possessing the means to defend yourself.

The gun was in one of Webb's bags, and belonged to the senator. A "senior Democratic aide" said Webb gave Thompson the bag with the gun when he dropped Webb off at the airport. Thompson didn't know the gun was in the bag. Webb says he didn't give the gun to Thompson. It will probably be a while before we learn the truth.

I support Webb's position on gun ownership, but fault him for two reasons. First, reports say the gun was loaded. The NRA's gun safety brochure clearly states that your weapon should always be unloaded until you are ready to use it. Carrying a loaded weapon in a packed bag is asking for trouble, and Webb should know better.

More seriously, his actions give support to the enemies of the Second Amendment. The common argument against allowing citizens to own guns is that people can't be trusted to handle them properly and to behave responsibly. James Webb is a senator, a trained Marine and a long-time NRA member. If anybody could follow the rules of gun ownership, it would be Webb.

And yet Webb left his loaded gun in a bag in a car. He allowed a person without a permit to gain access to his weapon. Because Webb didn't tell Thompson, Thompson didn't know he had a gun in the bag, which means he didn't safeguard it properly. This is exactly the shoddy mistreatment and mishandling of a weapon that gun opponents point to when they try to take our guns away.

Webb let his longtime friend remain in jail overnight for doing nothing more than taking Webb's bags to his office. His denial of responsibility suggests Webb wants his aide to take the fall. Hopefully, Thompson will not pay the penalty for Webb's failure to take proper care with his weapon.

This brings to mind a story from Prince William County. It is a story of another person who inadvertently carried a weapon in a bag to a place the weapon was not supposed to be. It did not turn out well for the perpetrator.

On March 6, 2000, Anne Esteban, an art teacher in the county school system, arrived at school with her art supplies in a zipped yellow bag. Another teacher opened her bag and found a loaded revolver. The teacher told the authorities, and Anne was arrested.

Esteban had a concealed carry permit and carried the gun for self-defense. She had unloaded her school supplies the previous Saturday and placed the gun in the bag to take with her on errands. When she returned she put the bag in the closet without repacking. In her rush to get to school, she grabbed her supply bag, forgetting there was a weapon in the bag.

Anne was willing to accept a reasonable punishment. Instead, prosecutors made an example of her, bringing felony charges for having a gun at school. She was convicted, fined, sentenced to prison and fired from her job. Her husband took two jobs to pay the legal bills. She can't get a job teaching. All because she forgot she had a gun in her bag.

Like Senator Webb, Anne carelessly left a loaded gun in a bag. But, because she was just a teacher, she lost her job, and is now a convicted felon. And because James Webb is a Democratic senator, he will suffer no penalty, and any punishment will be borne by his friend who unwittingly carried Webb's bags for him.

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