Crime Panel Deadlocks on Gun Show Rule

By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 14, 2009

RICHMOND, Jan. 13 -- The Virginia State Crime Commission on Tuesday declined to endorse closing the so-called gun show loophole in Virginia law, heightening uncertainty about the prospects of success in the General Assembly.

The deadlocked vote -- taken before a large crowd that included gun owners, at least one survivor of the Virginia Tech shootings and friends and relatives of other massacre victims -- highlighted an enduring split between country and city that transcends party affiliation in Virginia.

Two key commission members bucked their parties' habitual views of gun control measures. The commission's chairman, Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), voted to recommend that the General Assembly close the loophole by requiring all gun buyers to undergo an electronic background check before any sale, including purchases at gun shows. But House Minority Leader Ward L. Armstrong (D-Henry), who noted the economic importance of an annual gun show in his economically depressed rural district, voted no.

D. Michael White, whose daughter Nicole was one of the 32 people killed in the April 16, 2007, shooting on the Virginia Tech campus, expressed frustration at the commission's inaction.

White, 44, of Smithfield, compared the deadlock to the delay between the first gunshots and the decision by university officials to lock down the Blacksburg campus.

"My daughter was murdered because of indecision," said White, who also identified himself as a hunter and an "avid gun owner." "That's the same indecision they had today closing the gun show loophole."

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun-rights group, said he was heartened by the commission's inaction, arguing that the measure would only make private transactions more onerous for gun owners and do nothing to stop crime.

"I think they made the right choice, not going forward," Van Cleave said.

Gun owners note that the Virginia Tech gunman, Seung Hui Cho, obtained his weapons from federally licensed firearms dealers and underwent criminal background checks.

Despite some opposition Tuesday, the commission recommended that lawmakers consider requiring Virginia State Police to be on hand at some gun shows to help monitor firearms transactions. The cost of the troopers' presence would be borne by gun show promoters.

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