By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 11, 2007
RICHMOND, May 10 -- New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg accused Virginia Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell of defending "rogue gun dealers" Thursday as a spat between the two Republicans intensified over stings at Virginia gun shops.
Through a spokesman, Bloomberg said McDonnell's efforts to stop New York from sending undercover agents into Virginia to search for illegal gun sales was a "bizarre position for the commonwealth's top law enforcement official to hold."
"Mayor Bloomberg wants the same things that every elected official should want -- to protect the rights of law-abiding gun owners but also keep guns out of the hands of criminals," said Bloomberg spokesman Jason Post. "Attorney General McDonnell feels otherwise."
McDonnell, meanwhile, repeated his warnings that Bloomberg will violate a new state law if he continues to send undercover agents into Virginia after July 1. He also accused the mayor of the nation's largest city of meddling.
"It is not the job of the mayor of New York to enforce the criminal laws of Virginia," said McDonnell. He later added, "We don't tell Mayor Bloomberg how to enforce the laws of New York."
Convinced that illegal gun sales in Virginia contribute to violent crime in New York, 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 27 gun dealers over such practices, including six in Virginia. During the past decade, New York has traced 800 guns bought from the 27 dealers to numerous crimes, including homicide.
But New York's tactics infuriated Virginia gun groups and the General Assembly, which this year approved the law outlawing the practice starting July 1.
McDonnell has sent Bloomberg a letter warning him that he and his agents could be charged with a felony if they conduct further stings without the help of Virginia or federal law enforcement officials.
On Thursday, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) waded into the dispute. He said he would urge Virginia State Police to cooperate with Bloomberg, saying he supports the use of "straw purchases" to identify gun dealers breaking the law. But Kaine made it clear he supports the new law requiring state or federal law enforcement officials be present during such investigations.
"I want to enforce the laws, the law needs to be enforced, but I don't think you should have out there a bunch of rogue folks," Kaine said.
Virginia State Police Col. Robert Northern said his agency also has concerns about Bloomberg's tactics. "If we got a problem in Virginia involving guns, we should be involved," Northern said. "If you got a problem, come to us."
According to the New York lawsuits, two undercover investigators would go into gun stores. One would inquire about the weapon, and the other would fill out the paperwork needed to conduct a federal background check. The gun dealer would then hand the weapon to the person who did not receive a background check.
Post disputed suggestions that the stings involved, as Kaine and McDonnell said, "rogue agents" because New York hired investigators from Virginia. "Were they sent by New York? Sure. But they are not rogues," Post said.
"They are from the commonwealth of Virginia."
Bloomberg, a founder of a group known as the Mayors Against Illegal Guns, has said in recent days he will continue to seek out ways to target gun dealers he suspects of selling guns illegally. Post said New York won't violate Virginia law.
"We will continue to use creative and aggressive strategies and, in Virginia, that would include contacting the Virginia State Police," Post said.