Former Gov. Doug Wilder is blaming fellow Democrats in Virginia's Senate for allowing the repeal last week of one of his legislative legacies — the 19-year-old law limiting individuals to one handgun purchase per month.
Speaking on the issue for the first time in an interview with The Associated Press last week, the former governor and Richmond mayor said insatiably pro-gun Republicans had been trying for years to end the law that halted Virginia's reign as a promised land for gun runners.
They did what he thought they'd do. It was his own party, which holds 20 Senate seats just as the Republicans do, that shirked its duty, he said. And he singled out two Democrats in particular for blame: Sens. R. Creigh Deeds, of rural bath County, and John Edwards, who represents the city of Roanoke.
Wilder still feels strongly about the gun-control bill, ranking it only behind the creation of the rainy day reserve fund to tide Virginia through fiscal downturns as the legislation that defined his tenure.
"I predict what was will come back in terms of the proliferation of handguns," Wilder said. "I am convinced that the overwhelming majority of people in Virginia don't want to change the law."
He proposed the one-gun-a-month law over outcries from the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups in 1993, when guns initially sold here turned up with unsettling regularity in the hands of thugs in New York and other Northeastern cities.
Deeds, then a freshman member of the House of Delegates, voted against Wilder's bill back then. Deeds championed its repeal in two unsuccessful statewide races since then — for attorney general in 2005, and for governor in 2009.
Wilder said he knew Deeds would enthusiastically support the repeal of the law.
"The atmosphere for this to come about was created several years ago when Creigh decided to run for attorney general and made it a staple of his platform. I don't know of any Democrats who called him down," Wilder said. "The fact that he narrowly lost — 300 votes — told me right there the atmosphere had been poisoned."
That was the reason, Wilder said, that he refused to endorse Deeds in the gubernatorial race three years ago, even refusing an entreaty from President Barack Obama to close ranks behind the Democratic nominee.
Deeds says he's lost no sleep over it and is convinced he did the right thing.
"I voted against it in 1993 because I thought it was arbitrary and would do nothing to stop violent crime, and because there were so many exemptions in the law. If you have a concealed weapons permit, you can buy more than one a month. If you're a police officer, it doesn't apply. It doesn't apply to rifles or shotguns," Deeds said.
"Doug Wilder is a historic figure in Virginia's history and the history of the country, but that was bad policy then and it's bad policy now," Deeds said.
Edwards' support for the repeal, Wilder said, surprised him.