Bloomberg Joins Brother of Va. Tech Victim to Close Loophole in Va. Gun Show Law

By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 11, 2009

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is teaming up with a Fairfax County man whose sister was killed in the Virginia Tech shootings in a campaign to encourage Virginia lawmakers to require that private sellers at gun shows conduct background checks on would-be buyers.

On Monday, Bloomberg, whose gun control campaigns in Virginia have roiled gun rights groups, will join Omar Samaha at an Arlington hotel to unveil a 30-second commercial that will air statewide next week. Their campaign calls for the General Assembly to close the so-called gun-show loophole in Virginia law that allows private sellers to sell firearms without conducting background checks. The commercial, which will be previewed at the Crystal City Marriott at 11:30 a.m., was paid for by Americans United for Safe Streets, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that counts Bloomberg as a financial contributor.

The campaign comes as the Virginia Tech community prepares to mark the second anniversary of the April 16, 2007, shootings. Yesterday, the Blacksburg campus held a "reopening celebration" at the newly designed and refurbished west wing of Norris Hall, where gunman Seung Hui Cho killed 30 of his 32 victims, including Samaha's sister, Reema.

A Bloomberg spokesman said the mayor has campaigned at other events with the Samaha family and believes strongly that Virginia needs to tighten its gun regulations. "Because of the gun-show loophole . . . we know that a criminal will take the path of least resistance," said spokesman Jason Post.

A National Rifle Association spokesman did not return a phone call seeking comment. In February, Virginia senators rejected a bill requiring that private firearms sales at gun shows include background checks. Nearly all the Senate's Republicans voted against the bill, fearing, among other things, that it could have led to more restrictions on constitutional rights.

Licensed gun dealers in Virginia are required to conduct background checks on buyers, including those at gun shows.

Samaha, 25, said he hopes the commercial will help convince lawmakers and residents that such a bill could help prevent future attacks. Perhaps his most powerful television message might come from an ABC "20/20" segment, which was scheduled to air last night, he said. In the episode, Samaha said, he was followed by a camera crew at a Richmond gun show where he said he bought several weapons without background checks from "occasional" or private sellers.

"I purchased 10 guns in one hour with no questions asked or a background check," Samaha said. "I bought rifles and a Glock, shotguns -- anything, you name it. One person asked me if I could show him a driver's license, and I told him I didn't want to do it, and he said, 'If you give me 75 more dollars, I'll give it to you without looking.' "

Meanwhile, at the Virginia Tech campus yesterday, Ishwar Puri, head of the school's engineering science and mechanics department, said the second floor of Norris Hall's west wing has been redone with the atmosphere of an art gallery. The hallways have arches, the bullet-ridden walls have been plastered over, and more natural light streams into the building, said Puri, who hid in his office "20 paces away" from Cho's shooting spree.

"I walked in there with many students, and they look upon this as a beautiful creation of the space," Puri said.

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