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Editorial

Virginia shoots itself in the foot on handguns

There's simply no good reason for the state Senate vote to scrap a sensible law that limited handgun purchases to one a month.

February 20, 2012
  • Last week Virgina's Senate overturned a 20-year-old law that barred residents from buying more than one handgun a month. Gov. Bob McDonnell, seen here at CPAC on Feb. 10, is expected to sign it
Last week Virgina's Senate overturned a 20-year-old law that barred… (Chip Somodevilla/Getty…)

Virginia is for lovers — of guns. Last week that state's Senate, newly under Republican control after a GOP election surge in November, overturned a 20-year-old law that barred residents from buying more than one handgun a month. Why? Apparently because in Virginia, deadly firearms are like Lay's potato chips — you can't stop at just one.

Virginia's refusal to close the notorious "gun-show loophole" has long been criticized by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who frets that relatively tough regulations in his state are undermined when criminals can easily purchase firearms in other states and bring them into New York. In fact, similar worriesabout interstate gun-running were what prompted Virginia's Legislature to restrict handgun purchases in 1993. But with Republican lawmakers and two Democrats from rural districts eager to make a statement about gun rights, the state Senate approved the repeal by a 21-19 vote, and Gov. Bob McDonnell is expected to sign it.

Backers say they're just trying to bring Virginia's laws in line with those in other states, pointing out that only California, Maryland and New Jersey have monthly limits on handgun purchases. Moreover, they say the ban isn't effective because it doesn't apply to groups such as police officers and holders of concealed weapons permits. But that's a reason to strengthen the law, not to repeal it. And we have yet to hear a gun-rights advocate articulate why any law-abiding citizen has a compelling need to buy more than one gun a month. Criminals sometimes need to get their hands on a lot of guns at once to pull off a big job or to keep gangs well-armed; citizens who want to protect their homes from intruders have no such imperative.

A more colorful way of phrasing that point came from state Democratic Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, who noted to the Richmond Times-Dispatch that if a Virginian had bought one handgun a month from the time the ban was enacted until today, he would have 240 guns. "If you need more than 240 handguns, then I would submit something's wrong with you. Something's gone wrong in your life," he said.

Effective lobbying by the National Rifle Assn., combined with a reflexive antipathy to gun laws by conservative voters — even when they would have no impact on the rights of law-abiding citizens — have turned gun control into a dead issue politically, abandoned by Democratic lawmakers who once championed it. But even if new restrictions are off the table, that's no reason to scrap sensible laws already on the books. Virginia's repeal is a gift to killers that will endanger people in nearby states.

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