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With his City Council term (and maybe even the Million Mom March debate) ending, where does John Conrad stand on gun control?

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John Conrad - chairman of City Council's public safety committee, supporter of Project Exile and seeker of the state's top law-enforcement post - last week refused to give his views on gun control.

When asked why, Conrad said, "I haven't addressed that before."

When asked why he would not address it now, he said, "I don't have any comment on gun control at this point."

Conrad was asked for his views in light of his criticism of city backing for the pro-gun control Million Mom March in Washington last month, and his apparent silence on gun control in his Virginia attorney general campaign.

Conrad's campaign is expected to intensify when he leaves City Council at the end of the month.

Conrad's law partner Jerry W. Kilgore, his chief rival for the Republican nomination, readily identified himself last week as a "strong supporter of Second Amendment rights."

Kilgore says he wants stricter penalties for gun crimes rather than increased gun-control regulations. He calls the Million Mom March "a political rally that aimed at assisting Clinton and Gore in their agenda" for the latter.

Conrad declines to say whether or not he supports the march's aims, which local organizers call "common sense" gun-control and gun-safety measures. His no-comment positions dismay organizers already disappointed by his criticism of the city's paying to send local marchers to the rally.

Teresa Dayrit, the march's chief local organizer, expresses disbelief that Conrad would not talk about gun control. "This is a major issue today. Where is he?"

Mike Sarahan, another organizer, calls Conrad's silence "politically cynical" and an effort to avoid further angering gun-rights supporters and National Rifle Association members upset by the city's initial backing of the march.

"He's going to have to talk about those issues in the campaign," says Bob Holsworth, director of the VCU Center for Public Policy. But he doubted Conrad's silence is "pandering to the NRA, because then you could say Sa'ad El-Amin is pandering to the NRA .... That logic is a little convoluted to me."

Councilman El-Amin has joined Conrad in criticizing the use of city funds for the march. Armed with an opinion from the city attorney's office, last week they recommended the city not support such advocacy activities and that Million Mom March expenses be covered by private funds.

Mayor Tim Kaine started raising those funds last week, but reiterated his support for advocacy activities. "It wouldn't have been controversial in the abstract," he says. "It's because this is an emotional and sort of hot political issue."

Kaine says he did not know Conrad's views on gun control, and Holsworth says it is unlikely Conrad would reveal them in the midst of the ongoing Million Mom March debate. "There are more direct ways of making whatever statement he's going to make on it," Holsworth says.

He calls Conrad a man of character and ethics and says he is being politically smart, not cynical, in staying quiet for now: "I think he has an uphill climb for attorney general."

Conrad's gun-control views won't hold him back, however, whatever they may be, says Ed Matricardi, executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.

While the Republican national platform is pro-gun rights, Matricardi says the state GOP has no litmus test. He says some rural Democrats are more pro-gun rights than some urban Republicans, and differences over gun control are "more likely to break along rural vs. urban lines" than party lines.

Matricardi says the state party's three priorities are education, transportation and public safety. "Guns have a role in that [public safety] discussion, but I don't think they're an anchor in that

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