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By Sean Gorman January 26, 2015

Dems say assault guns allowed in Va. Capitol while balloons are banned

House Democrats in the General Assembly have launched a petition drive to show public support for a package of pending gun control bills.

The online entreaty calls for "common sense gun laws" and, to foster the contention that Virginia’s firearm policies are awry, contains a white and blue graphic of some of the rules regarding public entrance to the state capitol.

On the left side of the graphic is the headline "Banned in the Virginia State Capitol." Underneath are pictures of a bullhorn, a trumpet, a floating helium balloon and an American flag on a pole.

The right side says, "Allowed in the Virginia State Capitol." Underneath are pictures of a handgun, a rifle, and two assault guns.

"How does this make sense?" the bottom of the chart asks in capital letters.

We wondered whether the petition accurately described the rules for entry into the Capitol.

David Pourshoushtari, a spokesman for the House Democrats, pointed us to visitors’ rules posted on the General Assembly’s website. The House and the Senate have identical rules for general entry into the Capitol. The conditions vary slightly for entry into galleries in each chamber.

Let’s take a look.

Bullhorns, trumpets and balloons.

The basic rules for entering the Capitol are spelled out in these words on the legislative website: "Possession or use of any device that may disrupt the conduct of business is prohibited, including, but not limited to: voice-amplification equipment; bullhorns; blow horns; sirens, or other noise-producing devices as well as signs on sticks, poles or stakes, or helium-filled balloons."

That confirms two of four items Democrats said were banned. But what about trumpets?

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Susan Schaar, the Senate clerk, said they would generally not be allowed since they fall into the realm of "noise-producing devices." Schaar said exceptions can be made, such as for a memorial service.

Paul Nardo, the House clerk, said flags are allowed to be brought into the building, but not if they’re hoisted on poles. The image on the Democrat’s petition shows a flag on a pole.

Nardo explained that the rules apply to everyone, including members of the legislature as well as the general public.

Firearms

We couldn’t find any rules about bringing guns into the Capitol on the General Assembly’s website. But they do exist.

Capt. Randy Howard of the Virginia Division of Capitol Police said firearms access into the Capitol is governed by  rules passed in 2004 by a joint legislative committee. He told us possession is limited to three groups: General Assembly members, law enforcement officials and any holder of a valid concealed handgun permit.

Could someone bring an assault rifle into the Capitol? If he is allowed to bring in a firearm, the answer is yes, Howard said.

The 2004 rule "simply says ‘firearm’, so it’s fairly broad," Howard told us. "It doesn’t just say that the only thing they can bring in is a handgun even though that’s what’s covered by the (concealed) handgun permit."

Del. Joseph Morrissey, I-Henrico, held aloft an unloaded AK-47 in the House chamber during a 2013 debate over a gun control measure he sponsored. Morrissey said then that the weapon had been inspected by the Capitol police prior to being brought into the chamber, according to an article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The Senate bans firearms in its public gallery looking over the chamber’s floor. There is no such restriction in the House gallery.

Our ruling

Calling for reform to Virginia’s gun laws, House Democrats noted that firearms -- including assault rifles -- are allowed to be brought in the state Capitol while helium balloons, flags on poles, trumpets and bullhorns are banned.

The list of barred articles holds up. The firearms issue is a bit trickier. They can be brought into the Capitol, but only by lawmakers, valid concealed weapons permit holders and law enforcement. They are banned in the Senate gallery.

We rate the claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

Virginia House Democrats, "Support common sense gun laws," accessed Jan. 19, 2015.

Email from David Pourshoushtari, a spokesman for the Virgnia House Democrats, Jan. 20, 2015.

Interviews with Paul Nardo, House clerk, Jan. 21-23, 2015.

Interview with Susan Schaar, Senate clerk, Jan. 21, 2015.

Interviews with Capt. Randy Howard, Virginia Division of Capitol Police, Jan. 21-23, 2015.

Email from Capt. Randy Howard, Jan. 21, 2015.

Interview with Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League,  Jan. 23, 2015.

Virginia General Assembly, Virginia House of Delegates building rules, accessed Jan. 20, 2015.

Virginia General Assembly, Senate of Virginia building rules, accessed Jan. 20, 2015.

Virginia General Assembly, the General Assembly Building rules, accessed Jan. 20, 2015.

Interview with Scott Surovell, Jan. 22, 2015.

Joint Senate and House 2004 rule governing firearms access to the Virginia State Capitol and the General Assembly Building.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Shot unlikely to trigger gun ban," Jan. 28, 2006.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Bill aims to let guns be carried in capitol," Jan. 30, 2005.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Morrissey borrowed weapons, alerted Capitol police," Jan. 18, 2013.

The Washington Post, "Gun-toting delegate misfires at Va. capitol," Jan. 27, 2006.

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Dems say assault guns allowed in Va. Capitol while balloons are banned

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