Virginia is poised to lift a 19-year-old limit on handgun purchases, with the Republican-controlled state Senate expected to do away with the one-gun-per-month cap in a final vote Friday.
With the purchase limit likely headed for extinction, Richmond appears to have grown friendlier to gun rights since Republicans took control of the evenly divided Senate last month, pro-gun and gun-control activists agree.
This week, the Senate passed a bill prohibiting localities from requiring that people seeking concealed handgun permits submit fingerprints as part of their applications. The House passed a bill allowing government employees to store guns and ammunition in personal cars parked in workplace lots, including those at child-care centers and parks.
That is not to say the gun lobby will get everything it wants from this General Assembly session, even with the GOP in control of the House, Senate and governor’s mansion. A Senate committee has killed two high-profile gun-rights proposals that would have done away with state background checks and prevented colleges from banning firearms on campus.
“It’s going pretty well,” said Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. “It’s by no means perfect. There are some good bills that aren’t making it, but there are good bills that are. And I think we’re seeing much more progress than we’ve seen the last several years.”
Lori Haas, a gun-control activist whose daughter, Emily, was injured in the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech, said she thinks the General Assembly is moving in the wrong direction this year.
“Obviously, it says something about the Republicans that they pander to special interest groups instead of law enforcement and the citizens of Virginia,” she said.
More than 40 bills related to guns are before the General Assembly this session, most of them meant to expand gun rights and a handful aimed at restricting them. Repealing the one-gun-a-month limit is among the most high-profile goals of Richmond’s gun lobby.
Pro-gun lawmakers have tried for years to eliminate the cap, imposed in 1993 under Democratic governor L. Douglas Wilder to curb the state’s notorious role in gun trafficking along the East Coast.
Bills to remove the limit have passed the Republican-dominated House before. But they always died in Senate committees and subcommittees at the hands of the Democrats and moderate Republicans who long controlled the upper chamber.
This time around, with more conservative Republicans in the Senate, the bill made it out of committee. The full Senate passed it in a preliminary vote Thursday, one day after the House passed its own version of the measure. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) has indicated that he will sign the legislation.
“Now that we have background checks that we didn’t have [in 1993], one gun a month has outlived its purpose,” Sen. Charles W. Carrico (R-Grayson) , who sponsored the bill.
Carrico noted that over the years, the law had been changed to exempt law-enforcement officials and people with concealed-weapons permits from the limit. If collectors anticipated picking up several firearms at gun or antiques shows, they could simply apply to the state police for a permit exempting them from the cap for seven days, he said.
“I think everyone recognized the fact that the one-gun-a-month law has had so many exemptions made to it, so many carve-outs, that its usefulness has expired,” he said. “When you’re talking about Second Amendment rights, you try not to [afford them to citizens] piecemeal, and give some the authority and some not.”
Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), who opposed the legislation, predicted that illegal gun-running will once again thrive in the commonwealth.
“We’re going to become the gun distribution center of the East Coast, just like we were before,” he said.
The House passed a bill Thursday to allow city, town and county employees to store firearms and ammunition in personal cars parked at work. Some localities prohibit employees from doing so.
Under the bill, the guns must be inside a container and the vehicle must be locked. Opponents noted that the legislation does not require that the container itself be locked or that ammunition be stored out of sight.
Del. Brenda L. Pogge (R-York) said the measure would not apply to school parking lots, but she conceded that it would apply to lots at child-care centers, recreation centers and parks run by localities. The bill applies only to the parking lots, not the facilities themselves. The bill passed in a 75-25 vote.
Last week, a Senate committee killed a bill to prevent public universities from banning weapons from campuses. Gun-rights advocates, wearing bright orange stickers that read “Guns Save Lives,” had suggested that armed students and faculty members could curtailed the loss of life at Virginia Tech, where a shooter killed 32 people before taking his own life.
A House committee is still considering a bill that would allow faculty members at public universities to carry concealed weapons.