With an adjustable stock, a shrouded barrel and a pistol grip, it’s an intimidating weapon. Fearsome, even. It looks kind of like something commandos might carry.
If your aim is good, that $1,299 rifle will drop a wild boar at 50 yards. It fires a big-bore lead pellet at 900 feet per second.
Now, thanks to a new law by the Virginia General Assembly, it’s fully legal to target practice with that sucker in your own back yard. Even if you live on a postage-stamp-size plot of land in a city, like me.
You see, the Rogue is an air rifle, rather than a firearm. And this year, the General Assembly passed a law that basically says local governments must allow the firing of all air guns on private property. It took effect Friday.
As you can imagine, certain people in the city are unhappy about it. One is Roanoke Police Chief Chris Perkins, whose department is still trying to solve an air gun shooting spree that shattered 59 car windows earlier this year.
Except for target ranges, the city has banned the firing of air guns since 1909, City Attorney Bill Hackworth told me.
The Roanoke City Council pitched a fit about this new state law a couple of weeks ago. At today’s meeting, its members will be in the uncomfortable position of voting to rewrite the sensible old ban so it will conform to the ridiculous new law. (The council will also take up a resolution urging the General Assembly to repeal it.)
The state bill was sponsored by Sen. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Henry County. Every state lawmaker from the Roanoke Valley voted for it. Last week, I tried to find out why.
“I don’t recall there was much opposition,” said Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, a former vice mayor of the city. “The impression I had is that they’re [pneumatic weapons] not that dangerous. Nobody from the local government lobbied against it, that I recall.”
But there was debate on the Senate floor. It was led by Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax County.
He specifically warned his colleagues that pneumatic weapons have moved way beyond the days when they were limited to BB guns advertised on the back of comic books. The worst damage those could do was shoot out some kid’s eye.
From 1990 to 2000, Marsden argued, the Consumer Product Safety Commission tallied 39 U.S. deaths from pneumatic weapons. Of those, 32 were children under age 15. The Senate passed the bill anyway, 25-14.
When I asked Edwards about this, he said he would be inclined to vote for any bill sponsored by Reynolds that first passed a Senate committee. (This one made it through the Committee on Local Government by a vote of 9-6.)
“Roscoe’s a pretty decent guy. That probably had some influence,” Edwards said.
Sen. Ralph Smith, R-Botetourt County, voted for the bill because it facilitates practice for kids who will one day graduate to real guns.
“I would rather a young person get experience with a less lethal weapon than a firearm,” Smith explained.
He allowed that the back yard of a town house, or a condo or a home in Old Southwest might be a less-than-ideal place for such practice.
Del. Onzlee Ware, D-Roanoke, did not return my phone calls. Perhaps he was on a first-class junket to Paris touring uranium mines. (Just kidding — that was last summer.) Del. Greg Habeeb, R-Salem, didn’t return my call either.
It’s true that, as Smith pointed out, the vast majority of air guns are not deadly weapons like the Benjamin Rogue .357-caliber rifle.
But as technology advances, an increasing number are, and the law makes no distinction. The excuses I heard justifying votes for it suggest our lawmakers didn’t fully comprehend the implications of their actions.
It’s oddly reminiscent of a couple of years ago, when the General Assembly approved a dopey law mandating that people who had watched a one-hour, online handgun training video were qualified for permits to carry concealed firearms.
That meant almost any adult could get a gun permit without ever having touched a handgun in their life, so long as they’re not a felon or a dope fiend.
It remains on the books.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for the General Assembly to backtrack on this one, either.