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Will VA See Tougher Gun Laws in 2013?

Northern Virginia lawmakers will likely introduce or reintroduce gun bills at 2013 legislative session. Is this the year some of them will pass?

In the wake of Friday's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Virginia Sen. Janet Howell (D-Reston) says she will reintroduce a bill that would close the commonwealth's gun show loophole, which allows people to buy firearms at gun shows without a background check. 

"It's tragic," Howell says about the shooting that killed 20 schoolchildren and six adults. "I don't know whether I'm more angry or sad over it. I have introduced this bill in the past, and so have other people, but I'm hopeful there will be a better chance of passage this year." 

Closing the gun show loophole is among several gun bills in Virginia that repeatedly have been introduced and died in committee or are otherwise defeated. There are already 13 firearms bills prefiled for the 2013 session that are carryovers of bills from 2012.

"Virginia was the scene of a great gun tragedy," said Del. Ken Plum (D-Reston), referring to the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech. "In spite of that, though, we have seen constant erosion of limited gun laws. We saw the one-handgun-a month-law repealed this year. You can now have guns in restaurants. It is time to repeal all that."

Plum says gun laws are among the most divisive issues in a state like Virginia. The key lies in persuading downstate legislators to co-sponsor bills that would make guns tougher to obtain, Plum says.

"Not many people are willing to take on the gun lobby," he said.

Del. Scott Surovell (D-Mount Vernon), who was a sponsor of a 2011 bill (that died in committee) about limiting the number of bullets in a clip, says the attitudes of residents in Northern Virginia need to be better represented in state policy. 

"In the national election, Virginia, from Loudoun and Prince William counties north votes like Massachusetts," he said. "From that line and south, it votes like Kentucky. We ought to be able to keep guns out of bars, but the state says we can't."

In 2012, Gov. Bob McDonnell repealed a 19-year-old law that limited gun purchases to one per month. In 2010, Virginia became one of four states allowing guns in bars.

However, Del. Dave Albo (R-Springfield) points out Virginia has also toughened some firearms laws in recent years. 

"After Virginia Tech, we made changes to the law that fixed the problem that [the shooter] was able to get weapons even though he had a history of mental illness," Albo said.

Albo also said lawmakers don't only vote on party lines. He voted to keep the one-gun-a-month law, for instance.

"No one wants to see anyone get killed by criminals," he said. "Even if we ban guns in America, there are 100 million guns out there. Sixty percent of people in the U.S. own guns. I am interested in people giving me ideas that we can look at, that actually do something."

Howell and Surovell say they have both heard from a handful of constituents since Friday. Their message: Guns are too available and it is time to act.

"I hope at this point we have reached a tipping point," Howell said. "One thing everyone agrees on is that access should be limited to keeping guns from mentally ill people and those with a history of violence.

"There are other things that need to be done as well," Howell said. "I think the federal level needs to look at restricting assault weapons and look more into improving mental health programs." 

Chris December 20, 2012 at 05:26 PM
You are correct that firearms were much easier to obtain when our parents, however they weren't buying up arsenals of semi-automatic large ammunition clip assault weapons. That's the difference today.
Andrea B December 20, 2012 at 06:24 PM
The second amendment was written more than 200 years ago. It should not block society's ability to keep itself safe through gun-control legislation. Obviously, we have a fundamental difference in opinion as to whether guns do make society safer. I would argue no; I assume you would argue yes. I hope that airing opinions and differences on forums like these can lead to compromise. Personally, the only need I see for anyone to have a gun is to hunt, although that of course would not be my cup of tea. However, I understand some people think guns make them safer or simply enjoy using them for target practice. I am not looking to eliminate their right to do so. I'm just asking for some control on their purchase and use.
Joe Brenchick December 20, 2012 at 07:02 PM
Jim Hubbard: obviously you read the Second amendment a little too casually as everyone from our Founding Fathers to the Supreme Court agree that the right of the people is an individual, not a collective right. Just like all of the other amendments are individual, not collective rights. The rest of your statement is a merely parroting of Handgun Control, Inc. talking points.
Joe Brenchick December 20, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Since firearms are almost impossible to legally obtain now in Great Britain, homicides via firearms are almost nonexistent. However, violent crime/assaults have skyrocketed.
the-stix December 20, 2012 at 08:37 PM
Why is it that gun control advocates only seem to come out in droves when there is a tragedy such as in Connecticut, but seldom if ever for inner-city gun crime which is significant and with us every day? I understand in Chicago for example, where gun control laws are some of the strictest in the nation, there have been near 500 gun deaths already this year. Certainly this is a question to ponder, especially about liberals and progressives in general and about the value of more laws in specific.

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