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Virginia Lawmakers Should Close the Gun Show Loophole

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Friday, January 30, 2009

THE VIRGINIA Senate has an unprecedented opportunity today to begin to reverse the state's abysmal record on gun regulation.

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For years, state lawmakers have defeated bills requiring vendors at gun shows to conduct background checks of would-be buyers. Yet such legislation squeaked by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee by an 8 to 7 vote this week and is poised for a vote in the full Senate. Politicians of both parties, including self-described gun rights advocates, should endorse this modest bill.

Licensed gun dealers in Virginia are required to conduct background checks on buyers, including those to whom they sell at gun shows. Yet, according to the Virginia State Police, up to 35 percent of vendors at the scores of gun shows throughout the state are unlicensed and thus are under no obligation to perform the checks. This makes no sense, and the public is put at risk because felons or the mentally ill are not screened out if they attempt to purchase guns.

The Senate bill would close this loophole by requiring that even unlicensed vendors -- often hobbyists who do not make their living from gun sales -- conduct these checks. To facilitate compliance, the bill calls for the gun show promoter to ensure that those who already hold federal licenses to sell firearms will conduct checks on behalf of unlicensed vendors. The bill does not require background checks for those purchasing antique guns or for those who have concealed-weapons permits.

Gun rights advocates won a stunning victory last year before the U.S. Supreme Court when a majority of the justices determined that the Second Amendment bestows an individual right to keep and bear arms. Before this ruling, many advocates worried that gun control activists would use regulation to effectively ban gun ownership. Those worries should have been put to rest by the court's decision. There is no longer any legitimate reason for lawmakers to resist sensible provisions to ensure that only law-abiding citizens exercise this right. And the bill to require background checks by all vendors is but a minor inconvenience that respects gun-ownership rights while keeping weapons out of the hands of potentially dangerous people.

Do you have a different view of this issue? Weigh in with a member of the editorial board today in the Editorial Judgment discussion group.


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