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When Is a Gun Brandished?

The law allows open carry, so when does a gun-toting mother cross the line?

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Richmonders are buzzing about Chesterfield County mom Shiquita D. Reed, who’s accused of bringing a gun to a school bus stop on May 16. Reed allegedly did so because she was concerned about her middle-school-aged daughter being bullied.

A Chesterfield judge ordered Reed held without bond on Wednesday. She’s charged with five misdemeanor counts of brandishing a firearm, plus one additional charge of disorderly conduct for allegedly yelling and cursing at the bus stop on Tuesday.

What does “brandishing” really mean? According to Virginia law, it’s illegal to “point, hold or brandish” any firearm, whether it’s loaded or not, in a way that would “reasonably induce fear in the mind of another of being shot or injured.”

The “fear” part is key, explains Claire Cardwell, partner with criminal defense and personal injury firm Stone Cardwell & Dinkin. “What ‘brandish’ goes to is the intent,” Cardwell says. It doesn’t matter if you’re waving the gun around wildly or just pulling back your jacket to show a holstered weapon, as long as your intent is to induce fear -- or it would appear that way to a reasonable person.

Reed did pull the gun from its holster, Chesterfield police say. But if Reed had showed up with a gun in her hand while acting calmly, she might have been within the law. While carrying a concealed weapon requires a permit, openly carrying a gun is perfectly legal (not on school property, but a bus stop isn’t school property).

You can carry a gun in your hand while you’re walking down the street, Cardwell points out. “Now does that look scary and suspicious? Sure it does … But it’s not against the law.”

Many of the commenters on the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s website have expressed sympathy for Reed. “I don't agree with this Mother’s methods, but I totally understand her frustration,” said one commenter. “If no one else will protect her child, who will?”

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