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Leesburg Today: House Rolls Back Handgun Purchase Limit Print

BY  HANNAH HESS, Virginia Statehouse News


RICHMOND - In 1989, Douglas Wilder campaigned for Virginia governor with a promise to crack down on gun violence.

He won the election by less than a half percent--becoming the nation's first post-Civil War black governor--and promised to be a leader for gun control in a historically "pro-gun" state, Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, said this week.

The governor made good on his promise, but now the pro-gun Republican majority is looking to loosen some of Wilder's stricter rules on handguns.

To squelch the state's reputation as the gun runner of the South, Wilder pushed for a one-handgun-per-month limit on gun buying. Over the objections of Second Amendment advocates, lawmakers enacted the limit to prevent gun dealers from shipping handguns bought in Virginia to cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Washington, DC.

This week, lawmakers pushed a repeal of the limit through the House, 66-32. Petersen may cast a vote on the issue in the Senate.

Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodridge, introduced the proposal, H.B. 940, which has been referred to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee for a hearing.

Virginia lawmakers have chipped holes in the ban since its passage 18 years ago, Petersen said.

"There are numerous exceptions to it," he said. "If you trade in a gun, you can get a new gun - up to one a day. If you have a valid concealed-carry permit, you can exceed the limit."

Lawmakers have diluted the limit so much that, in the opinion of gun-control advocates, out-of-state buyers alone are affected. People who would try to buy large quantities of handguns and ship them for use in violent crime and gang activity are still thwarted by the limit, which has no loophole for out-of-state buyers.

"Right now, we have a good equilibrium," Petersen said.

But the Republican lawmakers who hold a majority in Virginia's statehouse see the limit as a restriction on constitutional freedoms. The Second Amendment is a clearly defined right to bear--and purchase--weapons, Delegate Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, said on the House floor Thursday.

"It's not a gun-owner's business to decide what someone needs to buy," said Delegate Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, who is proposing multiple pieces of gun-friendly legislation this session.

Lifting the ban also serves practical purposes, he said. Some collectors like to purchase guns with sequential serial numbers; others may purchase a set of pistols, or guns as Christmas gifts.

For Christmas shopping purposes, it's easier to stuff stockings with handguns in December than spread your gift-buying over two months, he said.

Cole said the ban is outdated because of modern technology and the availability of instant background checks.

State law requires that people who buy guns from a licensed dealer submit to a criminal background check by the Virginia State Police.

Pro-gun groups, such as the the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots organization, support the measure.

The group is "dedicated to advancing the fundamental human right of all Virginians to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I Section 13 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia," according to its website.

But moderates and gun-control advocates are pushing back.

"I think Republicans read the Second Amendment as an absolute right that you will be able to carry guns anywhere; you'll be able to buy them any place, any time," said Delegate Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, "And I just don't believe that.

"There's two extremes here," Hope said. "I think that our laws that are currently on the books are right in the middle."

Gun-shop owners and employees seemed reticent to talk about the limit Thursday. A worker for Blue Ridge Arsenal in Chantilly, for example, declined comment when reached by Virginia Statehouse News.