Virginia lawmakers vote to lift handgun purchase limit

February 6, 2012

The Virginia Senate voted Monday to lift the state’s one-per-month limit on handgun purchases, eliminating a 19-year-old cap that critics called outdated but gun-control activists credited with tamping down weapons trafficking.

The GOP-controlled Senate voted 21 to 19 to do away with the purchase limit, just days after the House passed its version of the bill. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), who voted for the cap as a delegate but vowed to lift it as a gubernatorial candidate, has indicated that he will sign the legislation.

Pro-gun lawmakers have tried for years to end handgun purchase limits, imposed in 1993 under Democratic governor L. Douglas Wilder to curb gun trafficking.

“It’s a banner day for gun owners,” said Robert Sadtler, a gun-rights activist. “This law never really accomplished what it claimed to. . . . It’s way overdue for repeal.”

Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax) warned that lifting the cap would earn the commonwealth a new slogan to go along with “Virginia is for lovers”: “Virginia, gun-runners’ paradise.”

“I just don’t know what good could possibly come of this,” said Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax).

Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) joined the mostly Democratic opposition to lifting the cap. But he also noted that Virginia had “considerably tightened our background checks” since it was put into place.

Two Democrats joined Republicans to eliminate the cap: former gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds (Bath) and John S. Edwards (Roanoke).

Bills to remove the limit have passed the Republican-dominated House before. But they always died in the Senate when Democrats and moderate Republicans controlled the upper chamber.

After taking control of the evenly divided chamber last month, a more conservative group of GOP senators got the gun bill out of committee and to a full floor vote.

Eliminating the one-gun-per-month limit has been a priority of Richmond’s gun lobby, which has had mixed success so far this General Assembly session.

Last month, a Senate panel killed a bill that would have done away with state background checks and another that would have prevented colleges from banning firearms on campus. A bill to allow college professors to carry concealed weapons on campus died in a House subcommittee vote Monday, but a bill that would allow guns in non-secured areas of airport terminals advanced to the full House panel. The House passed a bill Thursday to allow public employees to store firearms and ammunition in personal cars parked at workplaces, including child-care centers, recreation centers and parks run by localities.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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