Virginia lawmakers aim to loosen firearm restrictions

By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 16, 2010

RICHMOND, FEB. 14 -- A little more than a year ago, Virginia gun owners joined millions of Americans who began stockpiling weapons for fear that Barack Obama would win the White House and push for new gun controls.

Now that the former Illinois senator is president, the prophesied gun control measures have not come to pass, and Virginia's gun advocates are feeling almost giddy about their chances to loosen restrictions on buying and carrying firearms.

With a new Republican governor, attorney general and Republican-led House of Delegates, pro-gun legislators in Virginia are pushing a raft of bills, including some that would have had little chance in previous years.

Among them is a bid to fend off federal regulation of firearms and ammunition made and sold only in Virginia and a proposal to repeal the 17-year-old ban on buying more than one handgun a month, a signature achievement of former governor L. Douglas Wilder (D).

The repeal sailed through the House on Monday, despite opposition from law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church, and delegates also passed the bill on federal regulation. Both measures face an uphill climb in the Senate.

"You shouldn't have your constitutional rights rationed. Do we ration the First Amendment? Why not one church service a month?" said Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William), who is sponsoring the repeal of the one-gun-a-month law.

Other bills are designed to swell the ranks of Virginia's approximately 214,300 concealed-weapons carriers and open more doors to them. On Friday, the House approved a bill, HB505, that would allow people to carry concealed weapons in establishments that serve alcohol, as long as they refrain from drinking. On Tuesday, the Senate is expected to take up a similar bill, SB334, sponsored by Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr. (R-Augusta).

In previous years, the guns-in-bars bill cleared both chambers but was vetoed by then-Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D). Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) has expressed support for the measure.

Similar efforts to loosen gun restrictions are underway in Arizona, Mississippi, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Among a dozen pro-gun bills under consideration in Arizona this year is a measure to allow residents to carry concealed weapons without a permit, effectively abolishing existing training and certification requirements. Wyoming's House overwhelmingly passed a similar bill last week.

'A burden on society'

The trend toward loosening restrictions on guns worries people such as Rao Ivatury, a surgeon and head of the trauma unit at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. Of the more than 800 people who arrive at the trauma center each year because of violence, about two-thirds have been shot.

Ivatury estimates that caring for a gunshot victim costs "in excess of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and some into the millions." Even a 10-day stay for a fairly minor wound can cost at least $25,000 he said.

"So there is a burden on society," Ivatury said.

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