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Va. Panel’s Approval of Gun Show Bill Short-Lived

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Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

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RICHMOND, Va. — Gun control advocates on Friday briefly savored a rare — if modest — victory in their quest to close Virginia’s so-called “gun show loophole,” which allows private sales of firearms without a criminal background check.

The Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted 8-6 to endorse legislation restricting gun sales at the shows to licensed dealers, who already are required to run a background check on buyers through the Virginia State Police. The panel reconvened on the Senate floor about an hour later, reconsidered the earlier vote and put the bill back on its agenda for next week.

As introduced, the bill by Democratic Sen. Henry Marsh of Richmond was virtually identical to one that has been repeatedly killed the in last several years. It would have required all gun show vendors, including individuals, to run the background checks.

After it became clear the bill was going to meet its usual fate, Democratic Sen. A. Donald McEachin of Henrico County suggested a slightly different approach: restricting gun shows to licensed dealers. Private sellers could place their wares on consignment with dealers, ensuring that background checks are done for all transactions. The bill was amended to make those changes.

But Sen. Bill Stanley of Franklin County, one of two Republicans who voted for the measure, had second thoughts after seeing the final written version and asked for the reconsideration. He told committee members the language was “so flawed and so vague” that he feared it would just cause problems.

Stanley told reporters outside the Senate chamber that he was not pressured by gun-rights activists who opposed the bill.

Gun control advocate Lori Haas, whose daughter Emily was wounded in the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, watched from the Senate gallery as the committee changed course.

“I feel like I hit the banana peel but haven’t quite hit the ground,” Haas said.

She said she believed Stanley’s concerns were genuine but added that “the other side of this issue is trying desperately to unravel” a possible compromise.

Chuck Cunningham of the National Rifle Association told the committee at the earlier meeting that guns used in crimes rarely are sold at gun shows.

Philip Van Cleave, president of the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League, said allowing individual sales only by consignment is unfair because a dealer would want to sell his own inventory first.

The GOP-dominated committee, voting along party lines, killed several other Democrat-backed gun control measures. Among them were bills to ban the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines, require universal criminal background checks on gun transactions, limit firearms sales to licensed dealers and repeal a 2002 statute that prohibits localities from passing ordinances banning guns on public property.

The panel also voted 8-6 to kill legislation that would prohibit guns on state Capitol grounds, with an exception for legislators and their employees. Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria and sponsor of the bill, said he thought including the exception was his only chance for getting the bill passed — but it was that very provision that bothered some committee members.

“I think people will flip out when they find we passed something like this and exempted ourselves,” said Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Winchester.

The Senate committee’s actions came a day after a House of Delegates committee also rejected several gun control bills, some introduced in response to December’s elementary school massacre in Connecticut. The House panel sent a bill to put at least one armed teacher, employee or volunteer in every public school to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s task force on school safety, which is due to make recommendations for this legislative session.

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(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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