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“Virginia’s Struggle With Guns”: Taking A Stand On Gun Control To Dismay Of Gun-Rights Activists And Conservatives

Virginia is going through some soul searching on gun control although it is not necessarily related to the wave of mass shootings plaguing the country.

Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham is considering trying to revive “Project Exile,” which tapped considerable federal law enforcement resources back in 1997 to combat the city’s then-extraordinary murder rate. Richmond recently has seen a big spike in inner-city shootings.

In a separate initiative, Attorney Gen. Mark Herring (D) is ending reciprocal concealed-carry privileges with 25 states.

Herring’s move, which would start in February, is the less-impactful of the two ideas. It is largely symbolic and is designed to show that Virginia is taking a stand on gun control to the dismay of gun-rights activists and conservative legislators.

Durham’s idea has a lot of merit. This past weekend, Richmond saw five shootings and three deaths. They were garden-variety incidents that involved petty arguments and the like. In one, two young men allegedly started shooting it out and a 12-year-old girl was hit and killed.

At a press conference Monday, Durham suggested a return to “Project Exile,” which successfully stemmed Richmond’s 1997 murder rate that, per capita, became among the highest in the country. That year, the city saw 140 murders, 122 of them gun-related. So, city and state leaders asked federal authorities to step in and help prosecute those who use firearms in crimes.

According to the terms of Project Exile, anyone charged with using a gun in a crime would go into the tougher federal court system instead of being tried locally. He would face immediate federal prosecution and, if convicted, go to prison for five years in addition to any other incarceration time.

Another part of the project involved mass media. To get the message out and try to get pistol-packing hotheads and would-be armed robbers to think twice, authorities rented billboard space and took out other ad spots.

The result? Three hundred and seventy two people were indicted for federal gun violations, 440 illegal guns were seized, 247 people were convicted and 196 convicts served about 4.5 years in prison. After one year, Richmond homicides declined 33 percent and armed robberies went down 30 percent. The next year, were down 21 percent.

Over the next several years, the homicide rate dropped even more, but that also had to do with the changing demographics of shooters. Those most likely to be involved in gunfights or assaults either were killed or got older.

Project Exile had its critics. Some gun rights people called it Project Gestapo. But it did not do anything to limit access to gun ownership. It just took tough steps if someone used guns illegally.

Herring’s move likewise is drawing plenty of criticism. Some claim it will hurt Old Dominion tourism if out-of-staters can no longer pack heat on vacation. The argument is hard to follow. Hikers can’t carry firearms anyway in some federal parks. A gun fan also would look rather ridiculous frolicking in the surf at Virginia Beach while wearing a shoulder holster under a T-shirt.

 

By: Peter Galuszka, Opinions Page, The Washington Post, December 23, 2015

December 27, 2015 - Posted by | Alfred Durham, Gun Control, Gun Deaths, Mark Herring | , , , , , , ,

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