RICHMOND – Families of victims of the 2007 mass shootings at Virginia Tech and a student who survived the rampage urged Gov. Bob McDonnell today to veto legislation repealing the state’s one-per-month limit on handgun purchases.
“I want to be able to say to anyone who asks that our governor is a profile in courage,” said Peter Read, whose daughter, Mary Karen Read, was killed in the April 16, 2007 campus shootings that left 33 students and professors dead, including the student gunman.
McDonnell spoke with five family members and survivors of the Tech shootings in a conference call this morning, one day after the families asked for a chance to speak with the governor. McDonnell faces a Tuesday deadline to act on a bill (HB 940) that would scrap Virginia’s 19-year-old law restricting handgun purchases to one per month.
McDonnell did not indicate to the families how he will act on the legislation, but participants said he told them he had a “duty to protect the Second Amendment.”
Lori Haas, whose daughter Emily was wounded in the shootings, said McDonnell told the families he would give their input “some consideration.”
“I think his commitment was genuine, but the families are very strident in their perspective that repealing one gun a month is making it easier for criminals to get weapons and we know what happens,” Haas said. “His duty is to public safety, not to the Second Amendment as he told us.”
McDonnell told the families that his staff would contact them by Tuesday to let them know what he decides. McDonnell is attending a National Governors Association conference in Washington. D.C. this weekend.
“The governor appreciated hearing directly from the families on this issue,” McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said. “It was a straightforward and substantive discussion. His thoughts and prayers remain with them as they continue to deal with their tremendous loss. We will have further comment on the legislation at the appropriate time.”
McDonnell voted for the gun control law as a state legislator in 1993, a time when Virginia was considered a haven for interstate gun-runners. But McDonnell has said he would support its repeal, a top priority of gun rights organizations. Lawmakers who support the repeal argue that the General Assembly already has weakened the law by granting multiple exemptions to the purchase limit, and that instant background check technology has rendered the law unnecessary.
Legislation to repeal the purchase limit sailed through the Republican-dominated House of Delegates. It passed the Senate by a vote of 21-19 with support from two Democrats – John Edwards of Roanoke and Creigh Deeds of Bath County.
Participants in the conference call told McDonnell how the shootings had affected them and motivated them to get involved in gun control advocacy, according to a news release issued by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
McDonnell reminded the families that he has opposed legislation to allow firearms on college campuses and was involved in efforts to make sure that Virginia provided mental health records to the database used for instant background checks on gun-buyers.
While the General Assembly passed bills to repeal the one-gun-per-month law this year, two measures dealing with guns on college campuses failed. A House of Delegates subcommittee killed a bill (HB 91) that would have allowed faculty members to carry concealed handguns on campus. And a Senate committee shelved a bill (SB324) that would prevent colleges and other state agencies from regulating firearms possession.
– Michael Sluss