Batman takes on the Virginia gun lobby: David Usborne visits the state which is the main source of guns used in crime in eastern America

THE latest episode in the uphill campaign to wean Americans from owning guns features a Batman comic and a hardly draconian proposal to limit Virginians to buying only one gun a month. Nothing in it, though, is meant as a joke.

Virginia has become the latest focus of the gun-control debate since the release last year of government statistics suggesting that one in four guns with traceable origins seized from the scene of crimes in New York City was bought in Virginian gun shops. In Washington DC, it was one in three.

The report has stirred Virginia's Governor, Douglas Wilder, to urge new gun-law proposals on state legislators in Richmond. 'Virginia is the No 1 source-state for handguns on the East Coast,' he said recently. 'We must stop the trafficking or become known as the Grim Reaper State.'

At the core of his plan is the proposal to impose on gun shops a sales ceiling of one handgun per customer per month. Though at first sight it may seem ludicrous as a serious measure, its supporters say it will be critical in stopping bulk sales to criminals who mean to sell the guns in the cities.

'They come into the state and go into a store and buy handguns by the dozens,' says David Cullen, a state attorney. 'Then they haul the guns north and sell them on the street for cash or drugs.' He points out that Virginian gun laws are more lax than in almost any other state. Anyone who can show a state driving licence can walk from a store with as many guns as they like.

Although Mr Wilder's Democratic colleagues have a large majority in the Richmond legislature, ensuring the passage of his bill is likely to be hard going. The US gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association, is fighting back, denying there is any link between gun ownership and violent crime.

An unexpected factor in the controversy has been the release last week of a special issue of Batman in comic strip form. Published by DC Comics in New York, the edition, entitled 'Batman: Seduction of the Gun', tells the story of an evil gang in the fictional Gotham City arranging to take a ride to real-life Virginia to buy all the weapons needed for their deadly deeds.

One frame of the comic depicts a henchman of the gang leader, called Chaka Zulu, confronting Batman who is posing as a gun dealer named Freddie Lasker. 'You still got those connections down in Virginia?' asks the henchman. 'Chaka wants your butt down there and hook us up with some guns'.

The issue was a deliberate attempt to help expose the role of Virginia in gun-running and is dedicated to John Reisenbach, the son of an executive of Warner Brothers, which owns DC comics. Aged 33, Reisenbach was shot dead for no apparent reason on a Manhattan street in 1990.

For Mr Wilder, the comic and the publicity generated by its appearance seem like a gift. His office has wasted no time in drafting Batman and his sidekick, Robin, into supporting his gun bill campaign. 'The fact that the state has achieved this notoriety in a comic book strip should be an embarrassment to all Virginians,' said his spokesman, Glenn Davidson. 'If the statistics and the headlines don't make the point, this comic book will.'

However, gun retailers, in particular, refuse to be impressed. 'This is just another example of Virginia-bashing,' complains Bill Mitchell, manager of the Gun Shoppe, a virtual shack clad with security grilles and alarms, situated alongside Route 1 at Woodbridge in eastern Virginia. 'They're trying to blame us because they have no control of crime in DC.'

Mr Mitchell denies that his shop, crammed with glinting Colt and Beretta handguns and Uzi assault weapons, doubles as a supermarket for big-city criminals. He insists that he delays a sale whenever his suspicions are aroused and telephones the local gun control authorities. About six times a year, he says, officers arrive in time to pick up and question some such dubious customer.

But would it really matter if the public was asked to buy no more than one handgun a month? Absolutely it would, replies sales assistant Ernie. 'We have a customer who has six sons and buys each of them a handgun as presents every Christmas. And why shouldn't he?' he says indignantly. Funny, Bill at the Gun Shoppe had just such a customer, too, though that gentleman purportedly had seven boys. Almost unbelievable.

(Photographs omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones