Criminals who use guns would spend more time in prison, under a bill sent to Gov. Charles Robb.
The Senate approved, 33-5, legislation to increase the mandatory sentence for use of a firearm in committing a felony such as murder, robbery, rape or abduction.
Robb is expected to sign the measure, which is part of his anticrime legislation. It would become law July 1.
Currently, criminals who use firearms can expect to spend at least one year in prison on the first offense and three years on the second offense. This bill increases the minimum first-offense sentence to three years and the second-offense penalty to five years.
Sen. Joseph Gartlan, D-Fairfax, argued against the bill, saying the current law hasn't deterred crime and that the state's prisons are overcrowded.
"I challenge any member to point to a single statistic of crime in Virginia that supports the fact that since this law was enacted in 1975, there has been a decrease in either murder, rape, robbery or abduction. It simply is not the case," said Gartlan.
The senator said it costs about $15,000 a year to keep a prisoner.
Sen. Willard Moody, D-Portsmouth, said the bills were necessary because "we're not talking about any ordinary type of criminal here. We're talking about those people who have no consideration for human life. They're animals to a certain extent, some of them."