NEWS- Reid's bang: The shot heard 'round the state

John S. "Jack" Reid did not have a good week. After firing a handgun into a bulletproof vest hanging on his legislative office door, the Henrico delegate found himself the target of jokes and renewed calls to ban concealed weapons in the Capitol. And just when the pistol-packing Republican might have eased out of the news cycle, a blogger is challenging Reid's account of the allegedly accidental shooting.

According to published reports, Reid said he was ejecting the magazine of his tiny .380-caliber Kel-Tec pistol shortly before 9am January 26 when the gun went off in the General Assembly building.

"I knew enough about guns to know if the incident happened the way he described," says blogger J.C. Wilmore, "he'd have a very unsafe weapon."

A self-proclaimed gun buff who blogs as "Richmond Democrat," Wilmore emailed Kel-Tec to ask if it was possible for the gun to discharge by pushing the magazine release button as Reid described.

"There was obviously a round already in the chamber as it would be impossible for the gun to fire as described," responded Kel-Tec. "The gun would not have fired simply by ejecting the magazine."

George Kelgren is chief engineer for Kel-Tec, and he maintains the gun, model P-3AT, does not go off unless the trigger is pulled. "I don't want to speculate," he says, "but a likely scenario would be he wanted to clear the gun, emptied the magazine, and squeezed the trigger."

Kelgren would like to examine the gun and is "obviously" concerned about bad publicity as a result of his weapon being blamed for the legislative ballistics. Worse, he laments, "It's a fellow Republican."

The P-3AT is a semi-automatic designed for plainclothes cops or citizens with concealed-weapon permits, according to the Kel-Tec website. The weapon does not have a safety, and is a "double action" pistol with no exterior hammer. Pulling the trigger cocks the first shot.

Calling the P-3AT an "ingenious" design, Wilmore posits his own theory: "Delegate Reid had unloaded the magazine but forgot about the cartridge already in the chamber. I believe he was fooling around with the pistol and drew a bead on a convenient target: his own bulletproof vest hanging on the back of his door."

A gag gift meant to symbolize the ferocity of last Assembly's budget process, the vest was reportedly from Henrico County Sheriff Mike Wade. Reid has been the delegate for the 72nd District, which includes part of Henrico County, since 1990.

"I'm not anti-gun," stresses Wilmore. "It's about responsible gun ownership– and even more, it's about honesty. It's not like he was going to face any strong consequences. He was embarrassed."

Indeed, Reid apologized to the House of Delegates and told the Times-Dispatch he didn't know if he would continue to carry a gun. "I have some soul-searching to do," he said.

Reid, 63, who earned his master's degree in education from UVA in 1967, works as director of business and government relations for Chesterfield County schools. He did not return phone calls from the Hook.

"He's already addressed this in the press," says a legislative assistant. "I doubt he'll return your call."

Capitol police investigated the shooting and deemed it accidental, and Colonel George Mason declines comment about whether Reid, thinking the gun was unloaded, might have pulled the trigger.

"He hurt his hand on the recoil and slide," says Mason. "That's what let me know the way he was holding it, it was not intentional."

Mason says the shot caused no disturbance on the 7th floor that morning. "My guess, the floors are pretty well insulated," says Mason.

It was Reid who called the Capitol police, and Mason doesn't think many people were around when the gun went off. More surprising to some is that it's perfectly legal for citizens to bring a firearm into the Capitol.

"It's time for the state of Virginia to grow up and say you can't have concealed weapons in the legislature and offices," says Peter Hamm, director of communications for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "You don't have a right to put other people's safety at risk in the state legislature."

Hamm is less concerned about veracity allegations. "I don't want to criticize the delegate too much," he says. "He took a responsible and grown-up attitude. He's shown remorse and spoken out to remind people it's a threatening tool."

As for Kal-Tec's response that the gun can't fire when the clip is being removed, "The manufacturers always say that," Hamm contends.

So how many gun-toting legislators are there in Richmond? "They're not required to disclose that," says Mason.

There are rules, though. "If you don't have a concealed weapon permit, we'll ask you to put it in the gun locker," advises Mason. Knives, too, are okay, but police draw a line at explosives in the General Assembly.

The Brady Campaign thanks "the grace of God" that Reid's bullet hit a bulletproof vest instead of a staff member, secretary, or constituent.

"What are the odds a bullet is going to hit a bulletproof vest on the back of a door?" marvels Hamm.

That's what critic J.C. Wilmore wonders, too.

The petite P-3AT, as shown on the Richmond Democrat, is designed to slip discreetly into a pocket without snagging.