Gov. Terry McAuliffe has proposed a legislative amendment that would restore Virginia’s one-handgun-a-month limit.
It’s not likely to pass in the General Assembly, though.
The amendment would make it a Class 1 misdemeanor — punishable by up to a year in jail and $2,500 fine — for anyone other than a licensed firearms dealer to buy more than one handgun within a 30-day period.
A similar law was repealed in 2012 by a Republican-dominated General Assembly and then-Gov. Bob McDonnell, also a Republican. That year, the House and Senate voted 66-32 and 21-19, respectively, to overturn the law — virtually the same margins by which Republicans currently control each chamber.
In a statement announcing the proposal, McAuliffe, a Democrat, cited a 627-count indictment that charged 22 Virginians with running more than 200 guns bought in Virginia north to New York and selling them to an undercover officer. One of the suspects was overheard on wiretaps mocking Virginia’s gun laws, saying he could buy as many guns as he wanted.
McAuliffe said in a statement: “One-handgun-a-month was enacted almost a quarter century ago to counter Virginia’s shameful reputation as the gun-running capital of the East Coast. Five years ago, the General Assembly took the ill-advised step of repealing this commonsense limitation. As a result, Virginia is once again becoming the go-to state for criminals to purchase weapons in bulk.”
The governor’s proposal elevates the repealed law as a political issue in an election year, but it will likely face a hostile reception when the General Assembly reconvenes for the April 5 veto session.
McAuliffe is seeking to tack his amendment onto Senate Bill 1023, sponsored by Sen. Richard H. Stuart, R-Stafford. Stuart’s measure would bar sharing information regarding Virginia concealed-handgun permits with law enforcement in states that do not recognize a Virginia concealed-handgun permit as valid. The bill already passed both chambers of the General Assembly.
Stuart called it unfortunate Monday evening that he hadn’t seen the amendment. The governor’s office announced it late Monday afternoon.
“I also find it unfortunate that the governor chooses to place his priorities with New York City instead of the citizens of Virginia,” Stuart said in an email. “This bill was to protect Virginians that are in lawful possession of a firearm from being arrested by out-of-state jurisdictions that don’t give reciprocity to our concealed-carry permit. The bill very simply is designed to protect the people that are playing by the rules.”
Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said the governor’s move looks like a “stunt.”
“I’m not sure he understands precisely how bills become law,” Gilbert said. “He just sort of made up his own law and slapped it on a bill that has nothing to do with that.”
When the one-handgun-a-month law was in place, Gilbert said, criminals could bypass the restriction by getting friends to make straw purchases on their behalf, making the rule an impediment mainly to law-abiding gun buyers. Those arrested in the Brooklyn case allegedly used straw purchases, which are already illegal in Virginia.
“We say this all the time, those of us who are proponents of gun rights, that no matter what impediments you put in place, criminals by their nature find a way to get around the law,” Gilbert said.
He pointed to a recent break-in at a Chantilly gun store in which thieves stole 35 guns.
Attorney General Mark R. Herring called the one-gun law “a commonsense measure that never should have been repealed in the first place.”
“Virginia’s weak gun laws make it too easy for guns to get into the hands of criminals, making our families, communities, and especially our law enforcement officers less safe, not to mention the heartbreak and damage these guns cause in neighboring states,” Herring said in a statement. “When you’ve got gun runners on tape bragging about how weak our gun laws are it should be a pretty clear signal that something needs to change.”
Virginia is the No. 1 supplier of guns in New York, outside of the state itself. It’s also the largest supplier of guns to Washington, D.C., and other major cities and Northeastern states along Interstate 95.
The state is the eighth on a list of source states for all firearms trafficking, according to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.