A Senate committee on Wednesday endorsed legislation to repeal Virginia's one-handgun-a-month law, but two other measures supported by gun-rights advocates were carried over until next year.
The Courts of Justice Committee voted 8-6 to send Sen. Bill Carrico's one-handgun-a-month repeal to the Senate floor, where it will be up for a vote next week. That law was enacted in 1994 to curb the trafficking of guns from Virginia into the Northeast.
In a victory for gun-control supporters, however, Carrico carried over until 2013 his proposal to prohibit public colleges and other “administrative bodies” from regulating gun possession unless specifically authorized by the legislature to do so. Opponents of the bill argued that it would make campuses less safe just five years after a student gunman killed 32 people and then himself at Virginia Tech.
The committee also voted to postpone until next year legislation to exempt rifle and shotgun purchases from state background checks.
Advocates for stronger gun laws had feared that last fall's election, which resulted in a more conservative General Assembly with both chambers under Republican control, would lead to passage of a slew of bills they opposed. They were pleased that two of the measures that concerned them the most were shelved for the year.
“The legislators are reacting to the citizens of Virginia and what they care about,” said Lori Haas, whose daughter Emily was wounded in the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. “Guns on campus is an extremely unpopular position for anyone except a radical few.”
Carrico, R-Grayson, said he pulled the bill because many of his colleagues have asked for information he is not prepared to answer -- for example, the number of college students who are 21 or older and eligible for a concealed weapons permit. He said the Virginia State Police also had problems with some of the bill's language that could not be easily revolved under the time constraints of a busy 60-day session.
The committee voted to postpone Sen. Richard L. Black's background checks legislation to allow the state police a year to try to resolve what Black described as unacceptable delays in getting approval for gun purchases.
Black, R-Loudon, said budget and personnel cuts have impaired the ability of the state police to expedite criminal background checks of gun buyers. He said the promised “instant background checks” now generally take from three hours to five days. He said Virginia gun dealers lost $39 million in sales last year when frustrated buyers walked away, and those lost sales cost the state $2.3 million in tax revenue.
Black's legislation would have shifted background checks for rifle and shotgun purchases to what he said is a much quicker federal program. However, a state police representative said the federal system does not cover all the bases that are covered by the state background check.
“I've talked to a lot of dealers and they like the state police system,” Sen. Richard H. Stuart said. “They do tell me there have been some delays.”
Annette Elliott, president of the Showmasters gun show company, said the average wait for approval in the state system is five hours. She said her company had to start offering free admission on Sundays so buyers could come back the next day to pick up a gun rather than wait around. Even so, she said about 12 percent of sales are lost because of delays.
Stuart said he was reluctant to turn anything over to the federal government, and the state police should be given an opportunity to fix the problem with additional funding that another senator has proposed in the budget the General Assembly will vote on later in the session. Black said he did not object to the delay.
The committee only briefly discussed Carrico's bill to repeal the one-handgun-a-month law. Carrico noted that the law has been amended several times to exempt certain classes of people, including Virginia concealed weapons permit holders. He said South Carolina recently repealed a similar restriction after determining it was ineffective.
But his chief objection to the law, Carrico said, is that it allows government to limit how often an individual exercises his 2nd amendment rights.
Andrew Goddard, director of the Virginia Center for Public Safety, urged defeat of Carrico's bill. He said repealing the only law on Virginia's books intended to curb gun trafficking “is not going to make the problem go away.”
The committee rejected a motion to send the bill to the Virginia Crime Commission for a year of study, then voted to send it to the Senate floor.
Gov. Bob McDonnell will sign the bill if it passes, spokesman Tucker Martin said.