By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 10, 2007
RICHMOND, May 9 -- Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell is warning New York to stop, by the summer, sending private agents into Virginia to look for illegal gun sales, saying that the agents could face legal action.
Because of a Virginia law that goes into effect in July, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (R) and his agents could be charged with a felony if they continue to target Virginia gun dealers with undercover sting operations, McDonnell said.
McDonnell (R) has sent Bloomberg what amounts to a cease-and-desist letter.
"This was a courtesy letter to the mayor to advise him about a change in Virginia law of which he should be aware," McDonnell said Wednesday.
Bloomberg's spokesman, Jason Post, did not seem shaken: "We wish Attorney General McDonnell was as aggressive in enforcing the laws that prevent illegal guns from getting in the hands of criminals as he was in enforcing the laws that protect the gun lobby."
Convinced that illegal gun sales in Virginia contribute to violent crime in his city, Bloomberg has been arming private investigators with hidden cameras and sending them into Virginia gun stores to try to make illegal buys.
The process involves "straw purchases," in which one person legally fills out a form and buys a gun for someone else.
New York has filed suit against two dozen gun dealers over such practices, including six in Virginia.
In February, Town & Country Pawn Shop of Roanoke settled with New York and agreed to allow a special judge monitor their firearms sales. But several other dealers, including Bob Moate's Sports Shop in Richmond, are fighting the lawsuit in court.
According to the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York police recovered 22 guns between 1994 and 2002, including some used in homicides, that they said were sold by at Bob Moate's. In March 2006, New York sent a man and woman into the store to confirm its suspicion that the store was making illegal gun sales.
"Once the male investigator selected a gun and indicated a desire to purchase it, the female investigator, who had not been part of the discussion, approached the counter to make the purchase," the suit alleges. The woman filled out the required paperwork, but then the man came and paid cash for the gun, the suit says.
Richard Gardiner, the store's attorney, says his client has "no connection" to New York's gun violence. He also accuses the investigators of tricking his clients into making the sale.
"If anything, these dealers are the victims," Gardiner said.
Gun rights groups are also furious, and in the spring they convinced the Republican-controlled General Assembly to intervene. The House and Senate overwhelmingly approved a law that says Virginia or federal law enforcement officials have to be present before such stings can be conducted. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) signed the law in March.
"This new law strikes the proper balance between ensuring proper law enforcement and protecting the rights of law-abiding firearms dealers and those of Virginia citizens under the Second Amendment," McDonnell, a possible Republican candidate for governor in 2009, wrote to Bloomberg.
Mike Stollenwerk, a member of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, praised McDonnell's letter, saying he put "Bloomberg on notice."
The league has also been holding a series of "Bloomberg Gun Giveaways" to support the dealers' legal expenses.
Next week, at Fairfax County's Mason Government Center, "a handgun, a long gun, lots of ammunition, and other prizes will be awarded" as part of a drawing, according to a statement from Stollenwerk.
Post says Bloomberg "will continue to develop innovative and aggressive ways to keep New Yorkers safe."