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Va. Democrats renew call for background checks for gun-show purchases

Neil Cyrus (holding sign, center right) and Jake Neuffer (holding sign, center left) of Fairfax County join a crowd at the Arlington County Courthouse to call for background checks for all gun buyers in Virginia. (Patricia Sullivan/TWP)

Earlier versions of this article misstated the number of signatures on the petitions calling for an expansion of background checks for gun purchases. It was 28,000, not 2,800.

A group of Democratic lawmakers from Virginia unveiled a 28,000-signature petition Thursday demanding expansion of background checks for gun purchasers in the wake of a summer of violence that included the shootings of two Roanoke journalists and a tourism official on live television.

Seven Northern Virginia delegates and two Democratic nominees to the House of Delegates joined the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence at a news conference in Arlington to urge that background checks cover all gun sales, including those at gun shows and online.

Virginia law does not require background checks for gun purchases from unlicensed dealers or private sellers. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) tried to change that, but his proposal was rejected by the Republican-controlled Virginia legislature.

The governor again mentioned closing the gun-show loophole, as it is commonly called, in the wake of the Roanoke shootings, drawing the ire of Republican lawmakers who noted that the gunman in that case purchased his weapon legally.

But that’s not the point, said Del. Patrick A. Hope (D-Arlington), who presented the petitions along with Dels. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), Alfonso H. Lopez (D-Arlington), Kathleen Murphy (D-Fairfax), Kenneth R. Plum (D-Fairfax), Marcus B. Simon (D-Fairfax) and Rip Sullivan (D-McLean) and two Democratic nominees for delegate seats from Alexandria and Loudoun, Mark Levine and Liz Miller.

Buying guns at a gun show or online is “as easy as buying a pack of bubble gum at the ­7-Eleven,” Hope said. “It shouldn’t be that easy.”

Hope noted that most proposals for requiring more background checks are supported by the majority of Virginians.

He and others who gathered at the Arlington County Courthouse repeatedly named Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William), chairman of the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee, as one of the “obstructionist” legislators who have bottled up or rejected every gun-control bill they propose, including bills to ban handling of guns by children under the age of 4 and prohibiting gun sales to someone named in domestic violence protection orders.

“There needs to be some accountability for such inaction,” Hope said.

In a phone interview, Lingamfelter called the statements “a predictable pattern of rhetoric that you hear from people trying to score political points during an election year.”

“This is not the time to try to score political points,” he said. “It is a time to allow the state police to complete their investigation” of the Roanoke-area shootings. “Then we will have the basis for logical, common-sense legislation, if it is warranted.”

No Republican lawmakers were at the news conference.

A package of gun-control measures that included a requirement for background checks for gun-show purchases, which was a centerpiece of McAuliffe's 2015 legislative agenda, died in a Senate committee early this year.

But the lawmakers and candidates who gathered in Arlington said they are determined to keep trying. They stressed the need to elect more supporters of gun control.

“We can pass bills like this when we change the legislature,” Plum said. “We need to see legislators who have been opposed to this legislation lose their elections.”