An attendee at a committee hearing in the General Assembly wears a gun in his belt. State lawmakers allow only people with concealed carry permits to bring guns into the Capitol. Guns are banned in other state office buildings. (Photo by Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Virginians looking to the state’s largest city for something bold on gun policy, following the massacre at a local municipal building, got tepidness instead. 

The Virginia Beach City Council recently voted, 8-2, to indefinitely postpone a resolution supporting state legislation allowing localities to ban firearms in government buildings. State law prohibits localities from restricting people from carrying guns into those structures – except for courthouses. (I guess the lawmakers in Richmond are decidedly “pro-gun control” when it comes to associates of criminal defendants.)

Yet city policy bars Virginia Beach municipal employees from toting weapons into city buildings – unless they want to lose their jobs.

It’s a critical issue following the shooting rampage by a city employee May 31 that killed 12 people and injured several others. Police fatally shot the gunman. 

Dueling, impassioned speakers at the June 18 council meeting touted the merits of employees wielding guns in the case of a mass attack, versus the potential risks of allowing city employees to carry firearms anytime, anywhere in city buildings. 

They also acknowledged the proposed resolution wouldn’t have prevented the massacre. Gunman DeWayne Craddock was a city employee who worked in the building where the shootings occurred. He wielded two .45-caliber handguns and had extended magazines and a suppressor, commonly called a silencer. 

City Council members, in effect, punted last week instead of standing up for localities across the commonwealth. It was a less-than-courageous approach.

Sabrina Wooten, one of the council sponsors of the resolution, told me she was disappointed the measure was postponed indefinitely. Action was needed now. 

Following the massacre, people at the slew of vigils and funerals she attended urged her to do something. Her resolution tracks closely with a proposed bill by Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler, a Virginia Beach Democrat.

Wooten said she seeks “proactive gun measures to be safe.” Several council members who voted against the resolution said residents are still grieving and it’s not the right time to take up such an emotional, political issue.

Horse feathers. The time to confront the controversy is now, not later. It could take years for residents to get over the shock and senselessness of what happened May 31. So council members should have dealt with the possible fallout, working quickly to prevent a recurrence of tragedy.

This is all academic, though, since state legislators won’t do much next month. No one expects any substantive gun-control bills to pass the General Assembly special session that Gov. Ralph Northam called for July 9. 

During the assembly’s regular session earlier this year, all of the gun-control legislation sponsored by Democrats died in the GOP-controlled House and Senate. The National Rifle Association, the major pro-gun force nationwide, holds sway on many of these battles – even as mass shootings continue with so much regularity that it’s hard to keep track.

It’s still worth having a debate at the local level. I’ve always wondered why gun-rights enthusiasts believe carrying a weapon conveys some imprimatur that means the holder will never fire in a fit of spite, revenge or mistaken identity. Just because you’re a so-called “good guy with a gun” today doesn’t mean you’ll always be.

I was also moved by the comments of Kate Loring at the council meeting. 

In 2006, Loring’s 22-year-old daughter was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend in Chesapeake. Claire Cucchiari-Loring had studied self-defense for years, but the man ambushed her. A friend who was with Cucchiari-Loring was an experienced shooter, but she was so shocked she couldn’t intervene even if she’d had a gun that night, police told Loring.

Some folks argue that people should carry firearms in city buildings to protect themselves and save others. “I am frightened by their naïve self-confidence,” Loring said. “This is a fantasy of heroism.” Shooters often have the advantage of surprise, planning and a willingness to die.”

There’s also a move afoot to allow Virginia Beach employees to bring guns to work on change.org. It’s a mistake, no matter the intentions of supporters.

I turn to a study of workplace homicides in North Carolina published in May 2005 by the American Journal of Public Health. Workplaces where guns were permitted were about five times as likely to have a homicide as those where all weapons were prohibited, the study abstract noted. 

“The findings suggest that policies allowing guns in the workplace might increase workers’ risk of homicide,” it added. The research was part of a larger study funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

(Pro-gun and anti-gun sites roll out statistics, too, but I’m wary of their potential biases.)

I realize many localities don’t want to install metal detectors at every municipal building. It could be expensive and give the sites the look of fortresses. Residents would face yet more waiting times just to complete mundane tasks.

Cities and counties, though, should have the right to make those choices for themselves.