If Virginia lifts gun-buying limit, get ready for mayhem

Thursday, February 18, 2010

IN A RARE moment of gun law sanity, Virginia enacted a bill 17 years ago limiting the purchase of handguns to one a month. Almost immediately, the numbers of guns traced to Virginia that were used in crimes in the Northeast, particularly in New York, dropped sharply. Now, thanks to Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, a Prince William County Republican who is pushing to repeal the law, the Old Dominion may regain the dubious distinction of being a leading arsenal for criminals. Mr. Lingamfelter's measure cleared the House of Delegates in Richmond this week and is headed for the state Senate. It was backed mainly by House Republicans, for whom the purchase of a dozen handguns annually is apparently not enough.

Although it may be news to Mr. Lingamfelter, who compares limiting gun purchases to limiting church attendance, guns are often used in the commission of violent crimes, and the state has a legitimate interest in regulating their sale to protect public safety. Mr. Lingamfelter's assertion that the current law is obsolete is simply untrue. And to argue that it is ineffective because so many buyers are exempt (such as Virginians who hold permits to carry concealed weapons) only raises the question of why the commonwealth has shot holes in what is a highly useful law enforcement tool.

At the time the law was passed, in 1993, it was pushed not only by the then-governor, L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat, but also by a bipartisan coalition of law enforcement groups, businesses and the Justice Department of President George H.W. Bush. Mr. Lingamfelter argues that advances in technology mean that gun sellers can now verify that buyers are not felons instantaneously through the National Instant Check System, which didn't exist when the law was passed. But plenty of corrupt gun dealers circumvent the system by selling guns off the books or to straw buyers. And while the one-gun limit does not stop all those sales, it's a deterrent, since it applies to straw buyers as well.

We hope reason prevails, and the state Senate kills the repeal. Because if Mr. Lingamfelter's bill is enacted, here's what police and prosecutors expect: Crack dealers in New York will pay 21-year-olds with no criminal records to buy dozens of Glock pistols at Virginia gun shops. When those guns end up sold to criminals on the streets of the Bronx or traded for cocaine, New Yorkers will have the General Assembly to thank -- and Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) if he signs the bill.

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