House panel approves repeal of gun-a-month law
Update, 12:05: A House committee on Friday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would repeal Virginia's 17-year-old ban on buying more than one handgun per month.
Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, the bill's sponsor, told the panel Friday morning that the law is obsolete because the General Assembly has carved out so many exceptions to it already, including a provision that exempts more than 200,000 people who hold concealed-weapons permits. He also argued that instant electronic background checks -- which were not in place when the law was enacted in 1993 -- also make the law unnecessary. And he said that the law has only hampered law-abiding citizens interested in buying guns and has done nothing to combat illegal trafficking in weapons.
"Criminals who are inclined to break the law don't obey this one," Lingamfelter said.
But Andrew Goddard, a gun-control activist whose child was injured in the 2007 shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, told the panel that the law had been credited with reducing Virginia's role in illegal gun-trafficking on the East Coast, a conduit once known as the Iron Pipeline. Before the law became former Gov. Douglas Wilder's signature achievement, Virginia ranked first in illegal guns moving to urban areas in the East. Afterward, Goddard said, it dropped to sixth.
Speaking to a largely empty hearing room in the General Assembly building, several gun-control activists also criticized the panel for bringing up the bill Friday with little public notice that it would be heard. Committee Chairwoman Beverly Sherwood said the lack of notice was inadvertent, and opened the floor to public testimony. Echoing remarks that the lack of notice was not intentional, Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem), who sits on the committee, said the bill, HB49, had been filed in December, and anyone who wished to be heard on it has had ample opportunity.
The House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee also sent a host of other bills to the floor that would loosen restrictions on buying or carrying weapons in the commonwealth.
Orginial post: Did the House Republican leadership perform a little sleight of hand to push a controversial pro-gun bill along without any of those pesky gun control people around?
Lori Haas, a gun-control activist with the Virginia Center for Public Safety, thinks so.
Haas said Thursday that she believes behind-the-scenes maneuvering allowed a subcommittee to take action on a bill to repeal a ban on buying more than one gun in a 30-day period while no one in her camp was looking.
But late Thursday, news of legislative action on the gun-a-month bill also came as a surprise to Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. Van Cleave, who shows up wearing a blaze orange "Guns Save Lives" sticker to almost any meeting involving gun rights, said that he believed the controversial repeal was on its way to a quiet death.
"Wow!" said Van Cleave upon learning that the bill had been endorsed 5-0 by a subcommittee late Thursday. "My suspicion is that that this was headed for a pocket veto. Someone must have complained."
Van Cleave said he had not even been aware that the bill had been assigned to a subcommittee. And, for a time, neither was Haas, whose daughter survived minor gunshot wounds in the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings.
Haas said she and other gun control activists have been watching HB49 from just about the moment Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William) wrote it. They hope, if not to stop the bill in the Republican-led House, at least to follow its every move and be heard about it.
But on Thursday, the bill disappeared from their radar screens for a while. As late as 1 p.m., HB49 had still not been assigned to any subcommittee docket, according to Haas, who said she checked it the online Legislative Information System. Haas also talked to staff in the House clerk's office.
But around 1:30 p.m., House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Beverly J. Sherwood evidently assigned the bill to subcommittee No. 1 -- which happened to be meeting at 5 p.m. that afternoon, according to Haas, who said she learned this from talking with staff in the clerk's office. The subcommittee's docket was posted at 1:44 p.m., she said.
The agenda contained just one item: Lingamfelter's bill to repeal the one-gun-a-month law enacted 17 years ago as one of former governor Doug Wilder's signature achievements.
The subcommittee -- Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (Salem); Dels. David A. Nutter (Montgomery); Mark L. Keam (Fairfax); Thomas C. "Tommy" Wright, Jr. (Lunenburg); ; and Lingamfelter, all of whom are Republicans except Keam, a freshman Democrat - voted unanimously to endorse the bill, according to LIS.
As of 9:00 p.m., however, LIS was still not showing that the bill was docketed for a regularly scheduled meeting Friday morning of the full House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee, when several other gun bills will be heard. Haas said she learned from a real live clerk, however, that the committee will hear the bill Friday.
"If you were a member of the public, you would not know it's being heard," Haas said. "It's dirty politics."
Van Cleave said he's not so sure it was a ploy by gun-friendly law makers.
"If they were playing games, they sure as hell didn't tell me," Van Cleave said.
Jeff Ryer, a spokesman for the Republican majority, urged both sides to take a deep breath.
"There was nothing backroom about this," he said. If anything, this week's crazy weather played a role in the last-minute shuffling, he said.
-- Fredrick Kunkle
February 12, 2010; 12:05 PM ET
Categories: 2010 legislative session , Fredrick Kunkle , General Assembly , General Assembly 2010 , House of Delegates , Virginia Tech massacre
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