RICHMOND — Roanoke Democrat John Edwards’ attempt to reach a compromise on gun show background checks was shot down by a Senate committee this morning, taking fire from members in both parties.
By a vote of 11-3, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee killed Edwards’ last-ditch effort to settle a long-running debate over the so-called “gun show loophole,” which allows private sellers at gun shows to sell firearms without a criminal records check on the buyer.
Edwards’ bill (Senate Bill 1372) would have allowed private sellers to ask Virginia State Police to perform a criminal records check on prospective buyers at gun shows. Under existing law, only federally licensed dealers are required to run background checks, and private sellers have no access to the system.
Edwards, fellow Democrat Donald McEachin of Henrico County and Republican Bill Stanley of Franklin County worked out the proposed compromise, but were the only committee members to support it this morning.
“I think this is a pitiful response to the ongoing national tragedies,” said Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax County, who favors mandatory background checks for all gun show sales.
Howell said Edwards’ bill “will make it look we’ve done something when, in reality, we’ve done nothing.”
Edwards said he was surprised the proposal didn’t get more support.
“It’s one of this things that shows you it’s an emotional issue on both sides and getting both sides together is extremely difficult,” Edwards said.
Edwards based his proposed compromise on the premise that some private sellers at gun shows would like to have background checks done on prospective sellers, but can’t access the system. Annette Elliott, a promoter of a Richmond gun show, said some federally licensed dealers will charge a $25 fee to private sellers to run the checks.
“It’s cost prohibitive plus it’s time consuming, so there’s not a lot of people who do it,” she said.
Edwards’ bill would have required state police to be available to perform background checks for private sales at gun shows if one of the parties wants one. For the bill to take effect, the U.S. Department of Justice must approve the policies and procedures that the state police would use.
The National Rifle Association and gun control advocates who addressed the committee this morning showed little enthusiasm for Edwards’ bill. Andrew Goddard, whose son was wounded in the 2007 mass shootings at Virginia Tech, said Edwards’ bill would be just “a small step” toward keeping guns away from those who are legally barred from possessing them.
“This bill will narrow the door, but it will not close it,” Goddard said. “As a father who has come here for the last five years to get something done about this ridiculous situation where guns can easily pass into the hands of people who have no legal ability to possess them, I will not stop. I will be back here next year trying to get something that is much better.”
National Rifle Association lobbyist Chuck Cunningham approved of making the background checks voluntary for private sellers, but said Edwards’ bill would not slow the push for stricter gun controls.
“This will not resolve this issue any more than an instant check did back in 1989,” Cunningham said. “As long as there’s a law-abiding citizen who owns a gun, there’s going to be groups out there and activists trying to ban them, or trying to make it as much of a hassle as possible.”
– Michael Sluss