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Old Town, Alexandria Incident Highlights Why “Open Carry” Laws in Virginia Must Be Repealed 

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by David Pratt, Virginia Justice Democrats and Indivisible Winchester

This past Saturday morning, September 7, in Old Town Alexandria, a group of six men with loaded assault weapons and pistols walked a route that began at City Hall and took them up King Street and Union Street to Founder’s Park. They started around 9 a.m. and ended around 10 a.m.  Their presence and route was shared with the police department in advance.

At least one individual pictured in the photo walked through the Old Town Alexandria Farmer’s Market. A vendor called the police and witnesses saw police officers approach the man and talk to him as his female companion stood by wearing a t-shirt that reads “I’m the NRA in Virginia and I Vote.”

“The law is the law. It’s not illegal,” said an Alexandria police-department spokesman. 

This is what “open carry” looks like in Virginia. Believe it or not, 26 states are like Virginia permitting “open carry.” Another six states allow it but with localities able to restrict it. Another 13 allow “open carry” with a license. Only five states, California, Illinois, New York, North Carolina and Florida as well as the District of Columbia do not allow “open carry.”

The Dillon Rule Supersedes any Local Laws on Guns

The “Dillon Rule” from 1868 prohibits local jurisdictions from adopting laws that are not specifically permitted in the state. This has prevented communities like Falls Church from preventing people from walking the streets or entering businesses with loaded guns. 

The Virginia State Police website offers a handy explainer on guns in Virginia. With the exception of machine guns, firearms are not registered in Virginia. A firearm may be carried openly in Virginia except where prohibited by statute. They point to two statutes, one about not maliciously discharging your weapon (18.2-279) and one (18.2-311.2) that says you might not be able to openly carry a gun after your third conviction for a firearms offense. That’s it folks.

After Virginia Beach, After Virginia Tech at What Point Do we Feel Unsafe when a Man walks down the street with a loaded gun?

I asked the Alexandria police department how they respond to the kind of calls they got Saturday morning when frightened vendors at the farmer’s market called the police.

“We always take it seriously,” the spokesman said. However, the short answer is that Alexandria police respond right away, but they do not treat it as an emergency call. So no speeding to the scene with sirens flashing. “That has its own caveats. If it’s not an imminent threat we don’t want to endanger the public by racing through the streets,” the spokesman said. I asked how can they tell the difference between a call about a man walking down the street with an assault weapon because he/she wants to demonstrate their right to openly carry even assault weapons held at the ready in front of their body and the next mass shooter.

“We depend on the caller to describe the demeanor.” 

I pointed out that mass shooters do not tend to shout threats or act erratic. Many of them calmly and purposefully walk up to a crowd before they start shooting. The Alexandria police spokesman again said that it isn’t illegal. In fact, officers will stand by and observe open carry fanatics, but won’t ask to see necessarily ask to see their I.D. because these guys are looking for an excuse to bait officers and claim that their civil rights have been violated. 

Eyewitness Account from the Farmer’s Market

This was posted Sunday on Facebook and is being shared online now. I shared it myself and comments blew up. People are upset. Many are calling for the repeal of open carry in Virginia.

A citizen who was at the farmer’s market during the incident said:

“…As the day wore on I realized how upset and angry this made me, because some full-on verified asshat decided to exercise his 2nd Amendment Rights and open carry (not holster) a semi automatic weapon at the Old Town Alexandria Farmers Market this morning.  

“Surrounded by families, kids, unicorn costumes being sold for Halloween, entrepreneurs of all shapes, sizes and colors trying to make a living, pregnant women, grandparents, people in wheelchairs etc, this white male specimen and his posse (wife and daughter) were wearing NRA T-shirts trying to make a statement. At a farmers market on an early Saturday morning. What’s his message: Take my guns away and I’ll kill you?”

I am sure people left the market feeling menaced, and I am sure it did not help business for farmers who operate on thin margins. Wouldn’t you quickly leave the market without making purchases if you felt threatened? 

The witness also shared what she asked the officer on the scene:

“So if he starts shooting at people there is nothing you can do?

“He said: ‘Oh yes we can arrest him for committing a crime.’

“And I said: ’And by then how many people will be dead?’

“He had no answer for that.

“A lot of people were upset by the sight of this guy and tried to stay away from him. Because honestly, how can you know if he’s mentally stable or not, and going to fire off some rounds at any time? He fits the typical profile: White man with a gun. And btw, he wasn’t just carrying the AR-15 (?) he had a holstered 9mm Glock on his hip. Both guns fully loaded.

“As he walked slowly through the market he made sure to walk in circles in the open areas which made me think… Isn’t that what gorillas do in the jungle to mark their territory?

“At any point in time the truth of this situation today is that anyone could have been killed by this AWMWAG (Angry White Man with a Gun.)”

Police confirmed that the weapons were all loaded. 

Are We Going to Let Gun Nuts Bully Us?

Do you want to do something about this? Find your local chapter Moms Demand Action. Volunteer for candidates who promise to change our gun laws. Pressure our state delegates and senators to repeal open carry. Be like DC, California, Illinois, Florida, North Carolina, and New York that don’t allow it.