From the Bay to the Blue Ridge, To the Blue Ridge



Off the record: Why are rural Virginians so against common sense gun laws?

By Julie Reardon

No issue in recent memory has stirred up passion and emotion here in the hunt country of suburban and rural Virginia like gun control.  Most news reports tried to portray the massive crowds that showed up in Richmond on January 20th as angry old white Republican men. But the crowd that assembled to lobby against more gun control was as diverse as the state’s population. Young to old, students; at least one World War II veteran; African Americans, Asian Americans and other people of color; LGBTQ, immigrants, and yes, Democrats and Never Trumpers were among the thousands there. Daily, those who oppose gun control are portrayed as evil white men who’d rather see school children die and mass murders occur just so they can keep their guns. But who are these people really? We interviewed some to find out. Because of the contentious nature of the gun control issue, no names or identifying details are included.

The majority who spoke to us were not old, male and white, but all were rural dwellers living an hour or more southwest of Washington D.C. They do not believe the gun itself, and their own guns in particular, cause the problem. They are as appalled at these incidents as everyone else.  “I’m not a single-issue voter,” said one married woman in her late 50s with grown children. “We’ve always had guns here; our [grown children] learned to shoot growing up. But I’m not the kind who’d rather die and have you pry it out of my hands,” she explained. “I’m not going to vote for a pro-gun candidate unless I agree with everything else, like taxes and spending.”

Another younger woman, who had been a victim of domestic violence, admits she did not grow up in rural Virginia nor with guns. She recently completed the requirements for a concealed carry gun permit and planned to buy at least one hand gun, attended the Jan. 20 Lobby Day in Richmond and said: “A month ago, I probably would not have protested over just the one gun a month restriction because you don’t always get all of what you want. But now it seems that some restrictions are never going to be enough until all guns are banned and I’m against that.” Both women, and several men we spoke to all agreed they do not want to see children and innocent people or anyone die at the hands of a murderer wielding a gun any more than the most rabid gun hater. “Even those who don’t own handguns and would not be affected by the one per month limit side with those that don’t want that law, because we know it won’t stop criminals and the mentally ill from harming others,” said a retired U.S. Military combat veteran.

The unintended consequence of all the proposed gun legislation in Virginia is that many who would have accepted some of the restrictions, feel backed into a corner, ignored and now side with those that want no restrictions. The vast array of bills introduced, some of which will be laws be laws by press time, “won’t stop the crime wave and will have a combined effect of punishing people who have never committed crimes nor been a danger to others.”

Setting aside the “shall not infringe” 2nd Amendment argument, the people we spoke to have legitimate worries about the new laws. “Obviously these laws were drafted by people who lack a basic understanding of firearms, said one man, an avid hunter. “What looks like a scary machine gun is just a plain old hunting rifle with decorations. Banning it is like saying you’re a felon because your Honda Civic or Prius has too much chrome.”

“Many of us, not just those who shoot regularly because they hunt or shoot clays, own guns we inherited, heirlooms and antiques from our fathers and grandfathers, great grandfathers. I have my grandfather’s World War II gun and it is on the banned list,” said the woman with grown children. “Owning this and probably a few [her husband] has makes us instant felons or worse. We were supposed to feel appeased when forceful confiscation was taken off the table and the first bill withdrawn— but a second bill replaced confiscation with a grandfather clause and a tax. That’s too much.”

Inherited and gifted guns are, of course, acquired without background checks so there’s no record of who owns what. Confiscation and levying charges are difficult to impossible if you don’t know who owns what. “So the new bill tosses us a bone. We can keep these guns we already own with mandatory registration and taxation.  And that gives our government a road map and a GPS straight to our front door to confiscate them at a later date when confiscation becomes law. And it will eventually, because every time something happens, people scream for more laws. Even though taking guns from law abiding gun owners has never, anywhere in this country, done anything to reduce gun crimes or make criminals and psychopaths stop committing crimes.”

Another unintended consequence that bothered many is the potential for harm from red flag laws. “The red flag law sounds so good and reasonable at first. If you know someone is so angry or unbalanced they could be dangerous, you just notify the government, and law enforcement will remove their guns. You can even do this and remain anonymous. This may save a life but we are afraid it will cost far more than it saves.”

Anonymous accusers foster a disturbing victim and snitch culture that some say is becoming increasingly prevalent. “Far too many people manipulate the court system for petty revenge, and/or suffer from the helpless victim mentality—the unwillingness to accept the consequences of their own poor life choices. Normal people are able to learn from their mistakes and change their behaviors to avoid them in the future. Perpetual victims blame every setback, even if completely self created, on someone else.”   

“A vindictive ex, a marriage or relationship gone wrong, is fabricated into a reason to call authorities and claim the person is dangerous. Snitching is easy. Plenty have practiced it anonymously on social media for years, keyboard warriors never having to face the accused. In real life, you should have to reveal yourself before making a life threatening accusation.” It’s already happening in other states with red flag laws. There are legitimate reasons to fear a person with mental issues and access to guns, but anonymous snitching is a dangerous way to deal with that. “I have nightmares about the pets and innocent family members that will die because one of their loved ones is unjustly accused by a cop breaking down their door at 2 am,” said one young gun owner.

Then, there are the proposed taxes on the few guns people will be allowed to have, and on ammunition; in some of the bills the revenue would go to various programs, such as schools and education. Some of these programs are worthy and needed. “Why should gun owners be the only ones to pay for them?” asked one man. The imposition of these taxes might be grudgingly accepted if the programs included training and gun safety. But it’s been made clear that will never happen. A bill to provide gun safety classes in schools was shot down before it ever made it out of committee.

Guns had always been such an integral part of the fabric of rural society that until now, few gave their presence much thought.  Now, many feel unfairly punished because of a criminal element that has nothing to do with them or their lives. And they feel their governor and legislators consider them not constituents but flyover country—not worth listening to. “We feel like criminals are being rewarded by being able to vote, by the ease of pleading guilty to a misdemeanor after a felony was committed to avoid charges, while us law abiding gun owners are the new lower class,” lamented one person.

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