This week we asked: Should Virginia law continue to limit gun buyers to one handgun a month?
Point: Repeal Virginia’s handgun rationing law
By David Adams
Adams is a past president and current legislative committee chairman of the Virginia Shooting Sports Association, the official state association affiliate of the NRA.
Repealing Virginia’s handgun rationing law is a top priority for the Virginia Shooting Sports Association during the 2012 session of the Virginia General Assembly. In 1993, Gov. Doug Wilder signed legislation known as “one-gun-a-month.” The premise behind the law was based on flawed data. Wilder and his gun ban lobby friends made the claim, based on a relative handful of firearm traces conducted in the 1980s under a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms program known as Project Lead, that Virginia was one of the main sources of guns used in crimes in New York, and such a distinction was an embarrassment for the commonwealth.
Counterpoint: Law reduces illegal gun purchases used to commit crimes
By Dana Schrad
Schrad is executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.
In 1993, the Virginia General Assembly passed the one-handgun-a-month purchase limit bill to help reduce the illegal trafficking of handguns from Virginia. Two years later, the Virginia State Crime Commission reviewed the effectiveness of the law and voted against recommending its repeal.
Almost 19 years later, Virginia’s one-handgun-a-month purchase law continues to serve as a balanced solution to help stem the flow of illegally purchased handguns from Virginia to other states. The genesis of the law was the result of a large number of handguns that were purchased in Virginia being used in the commission of crimes in New York City and other urban centers on the East Coast. This brought to light the ease with which third party or “straw man” multiple purchases of handguns were occurring in Virginia to support violent criminal enterprises in other states.
The data used to justify this law has always been misused. There are major limitations on the utility of the BATF data for criminological analysis. These limits include the relatively small number of crime guns that BATF traces, BATF’s rules about what guns it will not even attempt to trace, and the limited information supplied by gun traces. According to BATF, most firearms recovered by police and later traced have not come from across state lines.
It’s interesting that at the same time the gun ban lobby advocates handgun rationing as an effective way to combat illegal gun trafficking, they use it as the excuse for their quest to end private sales of firearms at gun shows. There is no reliable research to show the law is effective. But it was never really about reducing crime. The gun ban lobby understands incrementalism and handgun rationing was always a scheme to set the precedent that the government can quantitatively limit the exercise of firearm rights, based on the government’s determination that someone does not need to exercise the right so often.
Finally, the decline in “special needs” waiver requests does not mean few if any Virginian’s rights are violated, it could simply mean many Virginian’s believe their purchase does not meet the “special needs” requirements stated in the law and they do not apply for the waiver. Law abiding citizens should not have to petition a state agency for permission to exercise a constitutionally protected right for which they are otherwise qualified. To say the law respects the rights of law-abiding citizens is laughable and sad at the same time.
South Carolina determined that gun rationing only served no useful purpose and repealed their law in 2004. Virginia should do the same and repeal the law.
There is a key difficulty to relying just on statistics to measure the effectiveness of the one-gun-a-month law. The question that statistics can’t answer is: how many third party, multiple gun purchases for use in illegal gun trafficking were thwarted by the existence of the law? Using BATF multiple purchase reporting forms to track what might be suspicious purposes has little value in preventing illegal gun trafficking. Law-abiding gun owners who make multiple purchases within 30 days may claim government harassment if the BATF investigates their purchasing practices based on a suspicion standard. And, not every handgun purchase in Virginia requires a background check, since private sales are exempted.
Equity of treatment of Virginians isn’t really the issue. Everyone is held to the same standards to qualify for a driver’s license, but the commercial motor vehicle driver must meet additional training and certification requirements for the right to drive a big rig on our highways. The public policy behind this higher standard for CMV drivers is to promote traffic safety. We have a variety of hunting licenses, at varying prices and based on different eligibility standards such as age, military veteran status, and type of game to be hunted. The purpose of the hunter education requirement is to promote safe hunting in the Commonwealth.
The concealed handgun permit waiver that exempts permit holders from the purchase limitation doesn’t mean that you have to choose to carry concealed. The permit requires passage of a background check and review by a court that serves as evidence that the holder is a responsible and qualified gun owner, which Virginia lawmakers approved as a standard worthy of waiver from the purchase limitation law. If a gun owner needs to make numerous, multiple gun purchases, then his interest is best served by getting a concealed handgun permit. For many gun owners who make an infrequent multiple gun purchase, the waiver application is not an unreasonable burden, any more than the safety education requirements for a hunting license. The handgun purchase limitation law, which has ample waiver opportunities, does not present an undue burden or even a concern to the vast majority of gun owners in Virginia.
Join us tomorrow for more discussion of this topic as Adams and Schrad participate in a live chat here at The RoundTable.