Gun laws make Va. a mecca for felons with credit cards

Friday, October 1, 2010

VIRGINIA FANCIES itself a genteel place, a fact that sits uncomfortably with this: It is also one of the nation's leading gun-buying bazaars for out-of-state criminals.

That distinction may have been lost on many law-abiding Virginians, but not on the nation's violent felons and misdemeanants. For them, the commonwealth's gun shows -- where criminals can purchase weapons without a background check -- and its gun shops are a regular source of easy-to-get firearms.

Lax gun laws and the clout of the weapons lobby in Richmond are largely to blame for the state's notoriety as one of the nation's top weapons depots. Throw in its position astride major interstate arteries, and the state becomes a one-stop shop for criminals with deep pockets and itchy trigger fingers.

Consider the chilling evidence compiled in an exhaustive new report by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of 500 mayors co-chaired by Mayors Michael R. Bloomberg of New York and Thomas M. Menino of Boston:

-- In each of the past four years, Virginia has been the point of sale for at least 2,500 guns used in out-of-state crimes. Only Georgia has consistently outranked it.

-- Although Virginia has just 2.5 percent of the nation's population, last year it was the source of about 6 percent of the traceable guns purchased in one state and used in a crime in another.

-- Of 10 key gun control laws identified in the report, Virginia has enacted just four. Among the nation's 12 largest states, which include Virginia, only Texas, Florida, Ohio and Georgia have gun laws that are more lax. Jurisdictions with tougher statutes -- New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, the District -- rank among the nation's least likely places for out-of-state criminals to buy weapons.

Even at a time of falling crime rates, the United States remains one of the world's most violent societies, a disgrace thrown into relief by the nation's 12,000 annual gun murders. Champions of the Second Amendment may recoil from the statistics, but the simple fact is that states with porous gun control laws bear a heavy moral responsibility for the carnage.

According to figures compiled by the mayors' group, almost a third of the guns used by criminals are purchased in one state and used in crimes in another. And as the report makes ringingly clear, there is a high degree of correlation between a state's gun laws and its tendency to "export" so-called crime guns.

Virginia should close the loophole that allows unlicensed sellers to sell weapons at gun shows to buyers without requiring background checks or purchase permits. This loophole allows unfit purchasers -- gun traffickers, convicted felons and the mentally ill -- to connect easily and undetected with private sellers.

Virginia should require purchasers to obtain permits to buy handguns and allow local police the option to deny concealed-carry permits on a case-by-case basis, as about half the states do now. The state should also prohibit gun purchases by anyone convicted of a violent or threatening misdemeanor -- meaning assault, battery, harassment and stalking -- and require that gun owners report to the police when their weapons are lost or stolen. In addition, state lawmakers should allow cities and counties to adopt more stringent local weapons laws if they choose.

Similar legislation has failed repeatedly in Virginia, where the gun lobby wields particular clout in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates. One price of that failure is the Old Dominion's infamy as one of the nation's crime-gun capitals.

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