McDonnell/Deeds vs Wilder/Cullen on Guns. Who’s Right?


    by Paul Goldman

    Governor McDonnell and the man he beat in 2009, Senator Creigh Deeds, are joining together to do something one of the Governor’s closest advisors – former Republican AG Richard Cullen – strongly opposes, along with former Governor Doug Wilder, who signed Virginia’s “one handgun per month” limit into law.

    But first, a little history of the issue. This is what Mr. Cullen, also the former federal prosecutor for the Eastern district of Virginia, had to say yesterday, after Deeds played a pivotal roll in overturning Virginia’s one gun a month law.

    In 1993, when the legislation passed [Wilder’s baby], gun running was a major problem up and down the East Coast and I am convinced that this law had a significant impact in reducing gunrunning, so I’m disappointed that it’s being repealed…I think we should be giving law enforcement tools, not taking them away. This is one of the few times I disagree with my Republican colleagues.

    In 2005, then Mayor Doug Wilder refused to back Creigh Deeds for Attorney General due to the Democratic nominee’s rejection of one-gun-a-month. It was my job to make sure the press understood the reasons for the Mayor’s position. The position of Mr. Deeds on this particular issue always struck me as curious, given some of his other stances on related issues. But I didn’t doubt the sincerity of his reasoning, only the conclusion.

    In 2009, then former Mayor and Governor Wilder issued this statement as regards his refusal to endorse Mr. Deeds’ once again, this time for Governor:

    The present law [in Virginia] permits anyone of sufficient age, who is not a felon, to be able to buy one gun a month; twelve a year, twenty four a year for couples, etc…Mr. Deeds thinks that’s not enough and signed a pledge to repeal that law. This action would allow the truck loads of guns to come back in exchange for drugs from those Northeastern states where gun laws are more stringent.

    Accordingly, Senator Deeds made his position once again known to the public on this issue. So his having voted to repeal it can not be considered a surprise. Instead, to me, the really fascinating question going forward is whether Governor McDonnell agrees with his friend Mr. Cullen, and former Governor Wilder, as to the role played by the law in making Virginia not only safer, but making sure we weren’t making things easier for the criminals and harder for law abiding citizens in other states.

    There is another reason Mr. Deeds’ position always struck me as odd: as I recall, the NRA signed off on the 1993 law. To be sure, the new digital universe provides law enforcement with new ways to protect us from the predators and the drug dealers. But the question is this: are we safer, is our state being the better neighbor, is the country better off now than it was in 1993 relative to the impact of the Wilder law?

    Mr. Cullen, the expert, highly regarded in this area, said again: YES SIR!

    To be sure, the one-handgun-a-month limit, even with the exceptions in the current law, does mean someone in Virginia can’t do all the things a gun purchaser can do in say Nevada. But to say it violates the Second Amendment is absurd, nor has anyone ever shown how any law-abiding Virginian who wants to purchase a gun has been denied in any way the ability to exercise their second amendment rights.

    Meaning: On a policy basis, when you weigh all the various interests, Mr. Cullen’s point seems irrefutable, the same for Mr. Wilder’s: the one-handgun-a-month law was good for Virginia and the country, with no negative affects on anyone’s second amendment rights.

    My suggestion to Governor McDonnell: send down an amendment (he isn’t going to veto it) which delays implementation of repeal until he creates a panel of experts to review the situation to determine whether what Mr. Cullen and Mr. Wilder have said is correct in terms of why we still need the law. Such a group could have their report finished by May 1 at the latest: the law itself isn’t going to go into affect until July 1 anyway.

    If a panel of respected experts conclude that the law is not longer necessary to do what it had been intended to do because of law enforcement advances as the repealers claim, then it would be hard to fault the Governor for signing the repeal.

    What’s wrong with this approach?

    There is a reason Democrats last elected an Attorney General in 1989. Perhaps Democrats need to run Mr. Cullen as AG in 2013, since he seems to have a very healthy respect of the law and understands that the more it becomes about politics, these respect it will get from future generations.

    As Justice Holmes said, the law is the only thing keeping human nature from going back into the jungle of social, political and economic Darwinism.

    It will be interesting to see if former Governor Wilder goes to the “mat,” as they say, to get Governor McDonnell to show the public law enforcement in Virginia is about stopping the bad guys, not about handcuffing the police.  


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