RICHMOND – A state Senate committee this morning tentatively advanced legislation to require criminal background checks for all firearms sales at gun shows.
But the fragile compromise didn’t hold for long. The Senate Courts of Justice Committee recalled the bill this afternoon after an architect of the compromise raised concerns about the legislation.
The bill cleared the courts committee this morning after Republican Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, helped craft an amendment that would allow only federally licensed dealers to sell firearms at gun shows. Private sellers would be allowed to consign guns to licensed dealers who could conduct the computerized records checks.
But, minutes after the committee meeting ended, Stanley said he had problems with the written version of the bill and would ask to have it reconsidered. Shortly after the Senate convened at noon, the committee huddled around the desk of Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment, R-James City County, to reconsider the vote and postpone additional action so that Stanley and Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico County, can continue working on a compromise.
The amended bill (Senate Bill 1001) represents a different approach to closing the so-called “gun show loophole,” which allows buyers to purchase guns from private sellers without being subjected to a criminal background check. The original bill, sponsored by Sen. Henry Marsh, D-Richmond, would have required gun show promoters to provide private sellers with access to licensed dealers who could conduct the background checks.
The committee’s initial 8-6 vote was a tentative victory for gun control advocates who have long pushed for measures to require background checks for all firearms purchased at gun shows. Supporters of closing the “gun show loophole” have argued that gun-buyers can easily avoid criminal background checks by seeking out private sellers at gun shows.
Gun rights advocates raised concerns that the legislation is impractical for private sellers and dealers and would be a first step toward restricting all private firearms sales.
Stanley said he was trying to forge some common ground on an issue that comes up year after year in the General Assembly.
“Sometimes you have to address these in ways that do not harm the Second Amendment, do not harm the private gun seller from having the right to sell their firearms and, I think recognizing the very good aspects of the gun shows,” Stanley said after the meeting.
But Stanley said he wants to see the written version of the bill before deciding whether to stick with this morning’s vote. And gun rights groups vowed to lobby vigorously to defeat the bill, which was referred to the Senate Finance Committee.
“I’m going to have to look the final, typed version before I decide if it’s ready for prime time” Stanley said. “I could reconsider.”
Stanley and Norment were the only Republicans who voted for the compromise. Six of the committee’s seven Democrats voted for the bill. Roanoke Democrat John Edwards was not present for this morning’s meeting. He was in Roanoke on personal business Thursday and the winter storm kept him from getting back to Richmond for Friday morning’s meeting.
On largely party-line votes, the committee defeated measures requiring universal background checks on firearms purchases and banning the sale of large-capacity ammunition magazines.
The Senate committee’s action came one day after a House of Delegates subcommittee rejected similar, House-sponsored measures. Democrats in both houses of the legislature made a renewed push for gun control measures in the aftermath of last month’s mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.
– Michael Sluss