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Senate Panel Defeats Bill on Gun Show Sales

Sen. Henry L. Marsh III (D-Richmond), right, and Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) could not overcome opposition to gun control on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.
Sen. Henry L. Marsh III (D-Richmond), right, and Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) could not overcome opposition to gun control on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. (By Steve Helber -- Associated Press)

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By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 24, 2008

RICHMOND, Jan. 23 -- A bill that would have restricted certain gun sales in Virginia and that had received passionate support from survivors of the Virginia Tech massacre was defeated by a Senate committee Wednesday, ending the major gun control effort of this year's General Assembly session.

The legislation had failed repeatedly over the years but had taken on a greater urgency this year because of the April 16 shootings. Supporters had said this year was their best chance of winning approval because of the Virginia Tech tragedy, and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) had made it a priority.

But Republicans and rural Democrats on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee teamed up to reject the bill, which would have required background checks for buyers at gun shows. Sens. Richard L. Saslaw, Janet D. Howell and Linda T. "Toddy" Puller, Fairfax County Democrats, voted in favor of the bill, and Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II, a Fairfax Republican, voted against it.

Under current law, only people who buy guns from licensed dealers must be checked through the federal database that identifies convicted felons and others deemed a danger to the community. Between 22 percent and 35 percent of gun show vendors do not have licenses, Virginia State Police say.

For Kaine, the vote was a setback especially because the Senate is controlled by his party. When the House defeated the bill last week, Kaine asserted that the effort was not over. But neither he nor others could overcome the power of the state's gun lobby and Virginia's historic support of gun rights.

A spokesman for Kaine said the governor was disappointed by Wednesday's vote.

"He has said many times that either you believe a felon should be able to buy a gun or you don't," spokesman Gordon Hickey said. "This vote indicates that some believe a felon should be able to buy a gun at a gun show."

Gun rights groups had opposed the bill, saying that Seung Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech student who shot and killed 32 people and then himself, did not buy the two semiautomatic weapons he used in the shootings at a gun show. Gun control advocates, however, said it would close a loophole in state law that could allow convicted felons and other dangerous individuals to buy guns and commit similar crimes.

"It's a complete and utter outrage," said Abigail Spangler, founder of the Alexandria-based, which had lobbied for the bill. "I'm offended on behalf of all Virginians in this year of our tragedy, when we lost our fellow Virginians in the largest mass shooting in Virginia history."

Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), who generally opposes gun restrictions, had proposed a compromise, which he said was inspired by emotional testimony from Virginia Tech families.

"I've never voted for legislation like this before, but I think it's important that in the end, we respond in some fashion to the tragedy at Virginia Tech," Deeds said.

Under the compromise, anyone with a permit to carry a concealed weapon would have been exempted from a background check, as would those who were buying antique guns. In addition, the requirement would not apply to gun sales that take place in parking lots outside the leased area of the gun show.

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