Since 1993, Virginia has had a “one-gun-per-month” law, limiting handgun purchases. But last week, the Virginia General Assembly decided to repeal the law, exciting gun rights advocates and rousing concern from gun-control proponents.
“In my opinion, we should have never even had the law in the first place,” said Philip Van Cleave, the president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, of the law signed by former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder more than a decade ago.
The law was initially implemented to curb illegal gun trafficking between Virginia and other states. But after a 21-19 decision in the Senate last week, along with a 66-32 vote in the House of Delegates, the repeal will advance to Gov. Bob McDonnell, who said he will agree to sign off on it, according to a Washington Times article.
“Guns were showing up in crime scenes in New York City, for example,” said Omar Samaha, who has done advocacy work for Mayors Against Illegal Guns and whose sister was killed during the April 16, 2007, Tech shootings.
“Traffickers would come down to Virginia, buy dozens of handguns, and distribute them up and down the East Coast. Virginia became known as one of the biggest gun-running states, if not the biggest, so they passed the one-handgun-per-month law so they could limit the trafficking of handguns.”
However, the law’s effectiveness since 1993 has been debated.
“I don’t think it succeeded,” Van Cleave said. “I think it has been increasing. The whole idea of thinking that this would stop a criminal is a joke. If they’re willing to steal guns, they’re not going to follow the one-gun-per-month law.”
Samaha, however, said repealing the law could have negative consequences.
“The thing about the one-handgun-per-month law in Virginia is there are already many ways to get around it,” he said. “People who have gone through some serious background checks will be able to buy more than one handgun a month. But this is going to open it up to anyone to be able to come into Virginia and buy multiple handguns.”
Law enforcement officials and people with concealed carry permits are exempt from the one-gun restriction, according to a Washington Post article.
However, Van Cleave thinks laws will not prevent criminals from acquiring guns. Additionally, he said traffickers sometimes have individuals with clean backgrounds purchase guns for them, rendering the law ineffective.
“There’s no real way to stop it. It’s just not possible,” he said.
Virginia had the seventh highest rate of gun exports in 2009 and was labeled as a “net exporter,” meaning more crime guns were trafficked out of Virginia than into it, according to a study by TraceTheGuns.org.
In addition, the study found 27.2 percent of the guns recovered have short “time-to-crime” rates — these guns were recovered in a crime within two years of their original sale.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a division of the Department of Justice, compiles data on the number of firearms recovered and traced in each state in the United States. The number of firearms recovered and traced in Virginia has been on the rise, according to the bureau’s data.
In 2006, 7,571 guns from Virginia were recovered. Each year since then, the number of guns recovered has increased. There number of guns recovered increased from 7,817 to 8,222 between 2007 and 2010.
Samaha said the increase isn’t necessarily the result of more criminals gaining access to guns.
“I think part of it is because the tracing of guns has improved. The way they trace guns now and the technology we have now makes tracing guns much easier,” he said.
However, he also said the repeal is concerning.
“We’re not just going to see this make Virginia less safe,” Samaha said. “You’re going to see this throughout all the states around Virginia. You’re going to see Virginia guns showing up at crime scenes.”