April 20, 2012

This month, Virginia Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) suggested on this page that the so-called (and recently repealed) one-gun-a-month law was an effective tool in stopping crime in the commonwealth and elsewhere [“Responsible gun laws in Virginia? Yes, it could happen,” April 1]. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here are the facts that led to the repeal of this law.

First of all, one-gun-a-month only addressed handguns, not rifles or shotguns, both of which can also be used in crimes. Additionally, when the law was passed, our current system for catching felons attempting to buy handguns wasn’t in place. But today all handgun purchases are subject to the National Instant Check System. Moreover, purchasers of any kind of firearm — handgun or otherwise — here in Virginia must undergo a criminal background check administered by the state police. These requirements have been very effective in stopping prohibited people from buying firearms.

On top of that, Virginia firearms dealers — who must have a federal firearms license to operate — are required to report anyone who buys more than one handgun in five days to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Virginia State Police. Even without a one-gun-a-month law, a person who purchases multiple handguns will be reported. Howell did not mention that important point.

It is also important to note that, in recent years, the General Assembly has exempted large numbers of people from this ineffective law, calling its central purpose into question. Here’s a list of these exemptions:

●Law enforcement and corrections officers.

●Licensed private security companies.

●Anyone who had a weapon stolen or lost within 30 days of its purchase.

●Anyone making a one-for-one gun trade.

●Anyone with a concealed-carry permit (about 278,000 people).

●Anyone granted an exemption by the State Police following an enhanced background check.

●Antique firearms sales, and sales by a collector of curios and relics.

All told, that amounts to hundreds of thousands of Virginians (and, in some instances, theoretically includes most adults). How can anyone say with a straight face that this was a serious law when so many people had been exempted?

Finally, some say that our action in repealing this law will make it easier to sell handguns across state lines. But it’s already against the law to sell handguns across state lines.

Well intended as it may have been in 1993, one-gun-a-month had become obsolete in Virginia.

Here is the sad truth about gun crime. Those determined to secure a gun illegally weren’t deterred by one-gun-a-month. Criminals don’t acquire their guns from gun stores in broad daylight, often under a watchful security camera, where they must present their driver’s licenses, fill out forms and stand patiently while the lawful dealer calls the State Police to see whether they’re a felon. Criminals acquire firearms through theft or back-alley exchanges, often in drug deals. Criminals who are inclined to break the law don’t buy guns legally. It’s flatly naive to think otherwise.

So what should we do to stop gun crime? First and foremost, we must severely punish those who bring violence on our communities. Next year, I will introduce legislation to do just that. Then we’ll see where Howell and others stand when they have a chance to vote on enhanced penalties for people who actually use guns in the commission of a felony. But don’t be surprised when liberals oppose these bills as excessive punishment.

The writer, a Republican representing Prince William and Fauquier counties, is the chairman of the Virginia House of Delegates Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee.