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Va. Senate panel kills House bill that would have repealed gun purchase limit

A specially formed Virginia Senate subcommittee voted to kill a bill that would have repealed the state's 17-year-old law banning the purchase of more than one gun a month.

The panel voted along party lines 4-1 to table HB49, sponsored by Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William).

As the Virginia General Assembly's annual session winds down, it has been dominated largely by two issues: guns and budget cuts. While Republicans and Democrats battled over closing a $4 billion hole in the state budget, gun-rights and gun-control supporters fought over one of the largest numbers of gun bills to move through the state Capitol in years.

The most closely watched effort involved Lingamfelter's attempt to repeal the gun-a-month law. He argues that improvements in computerized federal background checks and large numbers of exemptions to the law, including more than 214,000 Virginians with concealed weapons permits, have made it obsolete.

Only four states have a gun-a-month law. South Carolina became the first in 1976, followed by Virginia (1993), Maryland (1996), California (2000) and New Jersey (2010). South Carolina repealed its ban in 2004. Gun-control supporters in Pennsylvania, led by Gov. Edward G. Rendell when he was Philadelphia's mayor, tried to pass such a law but failed.

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell had said he would sign the gun-a-month repeal in the unlikely event the measure reached his desk.

"The Governor is a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, and he will strongly defend the constitutional rights of Virginians to keep and bear arms," a McDonnell spokeswoman said.

The Senate panel also killed a proposal dealing with police-sponsored gun buyback programs soon after convening.

Several police officers from cities such a Richmond and Newport News spoke against HB108, sponsored by Del. Mark L. Cole (R-Fredericksburg), saying it would effectively end gun buyback programs.

And the subcommittee voted to table a bill that would ban employers from prohibiting a lawful gun owners from storing weapons in a locked vehicle at their place of employment.

Business groups, including the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, said the bill, HB171, sponsored by Del. Brenda L. Pogge (R-York) would infringe on their rights to impose sensible workplace rules.

Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) on Wednesday was not shy about saying that a special subcommittee in the Senate Courts of Justice would effectively serve as an elephant graveyard to bury a host of gun-related bills passed by the Republican-controlled House.

Saslaw also acknowledged that the subcommittee was a form of revenge against its counterpart in the state Capitol and would kill several bills passed by the entire House just as House subcommittees have killed bills adopted by the entire Senate.

"We're going to do just like the House did," Saslaw said. "If it's good enough for them, it's good enough for us."

Lawmakers from both parties and both the House and Senate criticized the escalating tit-for-tat skirmishing by which committees composed of a handful of lawmakers in one chamber can kill bills passed by large majorities on the other side of the Capitol.

Among the bills before the Senate Courts' special subcommittee was the attempt to undo the landmark gun-control measure in Virginia. The bill, HB49, sponsored by Lingamfelter (R-Prince William), would repeal Virginia's 17-year-old ban on buying more than one handgun a month. Another gun bill before the panel was Del. Charles W. Carrico Sr.'s bill, HB69, that would fend off federal regulation of any firearms and ammunition made, sold and possessed in Virginia.

The gun-a-month repeal passed the full House by a vote of 61-37; the bill immunizing Virginia-made arms and ammo passed the same body by 70-29

A few bills that were not related to firearms were also docketed in the subcommittee, including HB15, a measure sponsored by Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William) that would prohibit Virginia from holding any federal terrorist suspects in correctional facilities. Another is HB1197, sponsored by Del. Sal R. Iaquinto (R-Virginia Beach), that would require first-time drunken driving offenders to install an Breathylizer-like ignition-locking device on their vehicles.

Republicans and gun-rights supporters, citing Senate Rule 20, said the subcommittees could only make "recommendations" on legislation, not kill them outright.

But Saslaw countered that the bills would die because he and Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, the Richmond Democrat who chairs the full Senate Courts of Justice Committee, want them to die. As committee chairman, Marsh has discretion about what bills he wishes to docket for the full committee, Saslaw said.

"If the chairman doesn't want to put it on the docket, he won't have to do it," Saslaw said. And he suggested that there was little aggrieved Republicans or gun-rights supporters could do about it.

"They have no appeal," an agitated Saslaw said. "This is not a court of law. It's a committee."

The subcommittee's members include Democratic Sens. Janet D. Howell of Fairfax, L. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, Linda T. "Toddy" Puller of Fairfax, and Marsh--all of whom have been supporters of gun-control. The sole Republican is Frederick M. Quayle of Chesapeake.

Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) said before the panel met that both Democratic and Republican senators who support gun rights are concerned about Saslaw's maneuver to kill the gun bills. Obenshain said it would mark the first time in his seven years in the Senate that bills passed by the House would not be heard by the full committee. He also said Republicans were already studying the parliamentary rule book and weighing their options.

-- Fredrick Kunkle

By Fredrick Kunkle  |  March 4, 2010; 3:15 PM ET
Categories:  !General Assembly , Fredrick Kunkle , General Assembly , General Assembly 2010 , House of Delegates , State Senate  
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hope the dems lose the senate in virginia

Posted by: SofaKingCool2009 | March 4, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Good for Saslaw. I only wish he had done this sooner. The Republican House has been doing this for YEARS--and not only on gun issues--so, yes, it is time for payback.

Good for our commonwealth as well.

Posted by: Sorrows | March 4, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

In the short run, this creative procedural maneuver will probably succeed in bottling up the bills Sen. Saslaw dislikes that would otherwise have passed in the Senate. But his victory is going to be extraordinarily costly in the long run - he basically just drove a stake through the heart of the Virginia State Senate's tradition of internal bipartisan civility. The ironic part is that he chose to do so on legislation that would have gotten a lot of Democratic support if it had been put up for a vote.

This is a sad day in the political life of the Commonwealth...

Posted by: zippypinhead1 | March 4, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Well I'm glad that they upheld that law made 17 years ago. Why does anyone need MORE THAN ONE gun, and MORE THAN ONE A MONTH? If one already has one gun,what is the need to have more than one, does it melt? Does one need to purchase one gun a month to change off, like a pair of shoes? Even one gun a year would be more than enough for most citizens.

Posted by: maryfh007 | March 4, 2010 8:12 PM | Report abuse

So apparently Democrats don't like democracy.

Those guys are playing with fire, and I don't think they realize it. When the average citizen loses faith in the transparency and fair dealing of the government because of the abuse of power by two members exploiting or ignoring Senate rules, then that's when government loses respect.

Oh, and Maryfh007, civil rights are not rationed according to "need." Why do you "need" more than one book? Does it melt? I figure one book a year would be more than enough for most citizens....

Posted by: Goaltender66 | March 4, 2010 10:07 PM | Report abuse

Common sense in Virginia has prevailed. Great to see the House Militia, Police and "Public Safety" Committee get a dose of the medicine it's been doling out for years as it bends over backwards to do the gun lobby's bidding. Also great to see Saslaw finally show some guts and stand up to this nonsense. After taking a beating, I guess he finally realized it was time for him to support Democrats and other moderate Virginians who put his caucus in office.

Posted by: gritsjr | March 5, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

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