The caricature on the cake was a dead likeness of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but the words popping out of his mouth in a comic strip bubble were a little out of character: “These are sick people!” The cake was for the ‘Bloomberg Gun Giveaway’ and all 150 people in the packed room at the Mason Government Center in Annandale, Va., wanted a piece of Mike Bloomberg.
The controversial Bloomberg Gun Giveaway was organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), an organization formed in 1994 to defend that “the human rights of all Virginians and, most importantly, the proposition that the Right to Keep and Bear Arms is a fundamental Human Right.” The event took place on May 17 at the Mason Government Center in Annandale, Va., to help raise money to pay local gun dealers’ legal fees from the lawsuits filed by New York City.
And it was a booming success. The room was so packed the fire department threatened to clear the building. As a result, VCDL members began acting like bouncers at the door of a snooty NYC nightclub. It was the season’s hot ticket for Virginia gun owners.
In case you’ve missed the news reports, New York’s Mayor Bloomberg hired private detectives to go into out-of-state gun stores to attempt to make “straw purchases,” illegal sales that occur when one person (someone with a carry permit for instance) buys a gun for someone else (maybe a felon). According to the New York lawsuits, two undercover investigators went into Virginia gun stores and inquired about buying a gun. One would fill out the paperwork needed to conduct a federal background check while trying to get to the dealer to hand the gun to his “friend.” Meanwhile, one of them filmed the sale with an unseen video camera. After these undercover operations by private detectives, the city of New York sued six Virginia gun dealers.
Some have since deemed the sting ‘entrapment.’ Virginia Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell stated, “It is not the job of the mayor of New York to enforce the criminal laws of Virginia.”
Bloomberg doesn’t see it that way. He has apparently decided the presidency is just a billion of his dollars away, so he may as well start thinking nationally.
However, the hundreds of people in attendance had the notion that Bloomberg’s populist anti-gun stance is backfiring with the public in Virginia, a key ‘swing’ state. You see, in the last congressional election, Virginia elected Senate Democratic-nominee James Webb by less than 1% of the vote. And Webb is pro-gun. (If you’ll recall, one of Webb’s aides was even nabbed as he accidentally tried to enter a congressional building with one of Webb’s firearms.) In attempting to grow to Presidential stature, Bloomberg might just have shot his much ballyhooed presidential aspirations in the political foot.
The Virginia State Assembly agreed with Attorney General McDonnell and passed a law forbidding other states from performing undercover operations in the Old Dominion without their knowledge. The new law takes effect after July 1. Bloomberg, who’s a founder of a group known as the Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said he’d continue to target gun dealers he suspects of selling guns illegally, but that he won’t break the new law.
So that’s the back-story behind a very political spectacle. All the characters were present. There were eight television cameras setup; their vans –you know, those white monstrosities with the satellite dishes on top– were double parked outside in the parking lot. Inside, I stood with dozens of print reporters who’d all walked a gauntlet of … well, actually there were only 13 demonstrators (I counted); though, later on the local news, they looked like a hundred as they stood should-to-shoulder outside like they were packed into a NYC subway –a place they might have felt more comfortable in.
Some of the protesters were holding pictures of victims from the Virginia Tech massacre. However, most of the protesters didn’t come prepared. Evidently, they weren’t professionals bussed in by the Brady Campaign. They were writing their signs right there on top of a garbage can, which is exactly where the hand-drawn signs were all stuffed an hour later. They weren’t even chanting. One tried a few times and a couple of the outnumbered and nervous protesters mumbled incoherently in response and then gave it up like a bunch of Nationals fans during an opening-day shellacking. Meanwhile, hundreds of people continued to stream passed the protesters, all trying to get in.
I navigated the crowd.
And was stopped right at the door. A VCDL member said they were over capacity. They didn’t want to give the county an excuse to shut the event down.
Then I spotted VCDL’s president, Philip Van Cleave, and pulled a sneaky press trick: I went in as I interviewed him. The throng of people on line –many of whom had handguns displayed on their hips– gave me the evil eye, and I felt as naughty as if I’d slipped in with the band into a sold-out concert, but I couldn’t help myself.
“What Bloomberg pulled was outrageous,” said Van Cleave as we made our way through the crowd. “Virginians don’t want NYC’s no-gun policies down here.” Then Van Cleave showed me the guns they were going to give away, a Para-Ordnance PX745E handgun and a Browning Varmint Stalker rifle in .223 WSSM.
Van Cleave explained that the event was almost stopped earlier that day. Though Fairfax County had known about the event for four months, early that morning Van Cleave was informed by Fairfax County Attorney David P. Bobzien that the event ‘might’ break a state gambling law, because participants were given raffle tickets after they’d purchased $100 of merchandise at local gun shops.
VCDL held an emergency meeting and came up with a contingency plan: They decided to give the raffle tickets away for free at the event. Hurrah! In their glee, they even gave the press tickets. There wasn’t a law against that; though one journalist I chatted with eyed his ticket and said it might be unethical for him to take a gun. He seemed to think it would be a bribe for a positive word from the press, which the VCDL has gotten little of.
To make this point clear, moments later Bruce Jackson, one of VCDL’s board of directors, got up in front of the audience and began reading unflattering clips from the Washington Post. As the crowd hooted and laughed between each clip, the cameras buzzed and people began to poke their heads in windows along a sidewall –fire marshal be damned!
Next Van Cleave criticized Fairfax County for not letting them overflow into another adjacent room and for their last-minute attempt to derail the Bloomberg Gun Giveaway as he stood in front of posters declaring “Virginia Doesn√ït Want NYC Gun Control.”
As they waited for the ticket stubs to be collected in a bucket, Van Cleave introduced Andrew Dysart, a George Mason University student who had recently founded GMU Students for Concealed Carry. Dysart formed the group, which has about a dozen members, because of the Virginia Tech massacre. He maintains that gun-free zones are only free of legal firearms; as a result, if a criminal who decides to commit mass murder can be sure no one will shoot back.
Then came the moment everyone was waiting for: The drawing. The number ‘6024’ was pulled and even the press started to check their stubs.
Jay Minsky stood up and all the cameras followed him to the podium. Though he will have to wait while a dealer follows the law by running a background check on him, he couldn’t keep his eyes off the Para Ordinance PX745E.
“If [Bloomberg] doesn’t like people in New York having guns, he should deal with New York,” said Minsky, who grew up in Brooklyn. “Just keep out of Virginia.”
Frank Miniter is the Executive Editor of American Hunter Magazine. He is also the author of the forthcoming book, %%AMAZON=1596985216 The Politically Incorrect Guide to Hunting%%