Virginia would lift its one-gun-per-month limit on handgun purchases under a bill that passed a state Senate committee Wednesday.
The committee killed two other gun-rights proposals, which would have done away with state background checks and allowed firearms on college campuses.
Pro-gun lawmakers have tried for years to eliminate the one-per-month cap on handgun purchases, imposed in 1994 under Democratic governor Doug Wilder in an effort to curb gun trafficking. But moderate Republicans and Democrats always killed bills to that effect in Senate committees and subcommittees.
The bill’s emergence Wednesday from the Senate Committee on Courts of Justice suggested that Richmond has grown friendlier to gun rights since Republicans took control of the evenly divided Senate this month. But the failure of two other pro-gun bills also indicated that the gun lobby will not get everything it wants this General Assembly session — even with the GOP in control of the House, Senate and governor’s mansion.
“I’ve definitely seen a big improvement over what would have happened last year,” said Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. “But it’s definitely a mixed bag.”
The bill lifting the one-per-month limit now heads for the Senate floor, where it is expected to get a final vote by early next week. Passage is expected in the Senate and House. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell has indicated that he would sign such a bill.
“Of course it’s going to pass the full Senate,” said Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), who opposed the bill. “We’re going to become the gun distribution center of the East Coast, just like we were before.”
Sen. Charles W. Carrico (R-Grayson) sponsored the bill to lift the limit.
“Now that we have background checks that we didn’t have in 1994, one gun a month has outlived its purpose,” Carrico said.
Carrico noted that over the years, the law had been changed to exempt law-enforcement officials and people with concealed-weapons permits from the limit. If collectors anticipated picking up several firearms at gun or antiques shows, they could simply apply to the state police for a permit exempting them from the cap for several days, he said.
“I think everyone recognized the fact that the one-gun-a-month law has had so many exemptions made to it, so many carve-outs, that its usefulness has expired,” he said. “When you’re talking about Second Amendment rights, you try not to [afford them to citizens] piecemeal, and give some the authority and some not.”
The bill passed the committee 8-6, with one Democrat, John S. Edwards of Roanoke, voting in favor. One Republican, Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment of James City, was absent.
Carrico had less luck with a bill that would have prevented colleges from banning guns from campuses. Gun-rights advocates, wearing bright orange stickers that read “Guns Save Lives,” suggested that armed students and faculty could have prevented tragedies like the one that struck Virginia Tech in 2007, when a shooter killed 32 people before taking his own life.
The bill drew opposition from relatives of some students killed or injured in that attack. Don Challis, chief of police at the College of William and Mary, also traveled to Richmond Wednesday to express his opposition. Challis said he doubted that in that sort of emergency, “a person who rarely, if ever, shoots a weapon is going to be any kind of positive factor.”
Carrico agreed to have the bill continued until next year, in part because he was unable to provide colleagues with the number of students likely to bring guns to Virginia campuses.
“I just didn’t want to be amending the bill on the fly,” he said.
Sen. Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun) also appeared before the committee, promoting a bill that would do away with state background checks on gun buyers. Black said the state could rely on federal background checks, which he said were more efficient than those conducted by state police.
But Black eventually agreed to put his bill off until next year after several committee members said they would prefer to beef up staffing at the state police to speed up the checks they conduct.
Sen. Richard H. Stuart (R-Westmoreland) said he had “a real aversion to giving anything to the federal government, with what I see them being able to accomplish and not accomplish.”