Skip to comments.Virginia background checks for gun sales challenged
Posted on 11/21/2011 11:17:33 AM PST by marktwain
Virginia's criminal background check system for firearm purchases, the first of its kind in the nation, is being targeted for elimination.
Gun-rights advocates have lobbied Gov. Bob McDonnell to scrap the program, arguing that it is redundant because a federal background check system can replace it.
Gun-control groups say doing so would take a valuable law enforcement tool away from Virginia State Police and undermine state gun laws.
Efforts to cancel the state's 22-year-old background check system, known as the Virginia Firearms Transaction Program, could be debated in the upcoming General Assembly session. Republicans will control state government for the first time since 2001 and a determined push to loosen state gun laws is expected.
Some of those supporting looser controls on guns are the National Rifle Association, which has urged Virginians to lobby McDonnell on background checks, and the Virginia Citizens Defense League.
A spokeswoman for McDonnell said "informal discussions with interested parties" about the background check system have been held and the subject remains under review.
Ending the state background check could be a tricky political issue for McDonnell, a pro-gun Republican who doesn't own firearms.
Doing away with it would likely shrink the state bureaucracy and at least nominally reduce spending, areas where the governor has worked to distinguish himself. But it also invites potential blowback from gun-control and public-safety advocates at a time that McDonnell is nurturing vice-presidential aspirations.
By law, prospective gun buyers must clear background investigations before dealers are permitted to sell to them.
The state program and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System screen purchasers for criminal history, illegal presence in the country, drug offenses, dishonorable military discharge, mental health adjudications and protective orders against them.
While there is overlap, the state system is not exactly the same as federal system, which has been around since 1998 and is overseen by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Some Virginia standards are stricter than the federal prohibitions, State Police officials said, and ending the state program would undercut aspects of state gun law.
Among the key disparities: State protective order rules apply to more family situations than the federal standards; Virginia's drug policy disqualifies buyers for longer periods of time; and rules on foreign-born purchasers differ.
What's more, Virginia law blocks people with juvenile felony convictions from obtaining a weapon. Because the state severely limits access to state juvenile criminal records, however, information about youthful felonies doesn't appear in the federal background check system.
There's also a difference between how the state and federal systems view mental health treatment.
Both bar those who have been involuntarily committed from purchasing guns.
But Virginia law also specifies that someone evaluated under a temporary detention order who then submits to voluntary treatment would be barred from purchasing a weapon - an outgrowth of the response to Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho's history with the mental health system.
Perhaps most distressing to some gun-control advocates, the federal system doesn't limit handgun purchases to one a month, as Virginia law does. As a delegate, McDonnell voted for the one-gun-a-month law, but he has since said he would sign legislation overturning it.
Getting rid of "the piece of law that's stuck in our craw since 1993" is a goal for gun-rights activists, said Virginia Citizens Defense League president Philip Van Cleave.
Like the NRA, Van Cleave's group has problems with the state background check system, but for different reasons: Members says it has ceased to be the rapid-response system it was initially billed as.
"There was a promise made to gun owners back then that this was going to be so smooth, so quick," Van Cleave said, noting that at the system's inception, "state police in Virginia were showing everyone in the nation how this should be done."
Over time, he said, the federal system has eclipsed Virginia's program.
State Police officials said any delays in processing checks and replying to gun dealers is due to steady growth in application volume even as the economy has dipped and the number of staffers doing the checks has shrunk. The department processed roughly 276,000 transactions last year.
Gun-rights advocates also bridle at the $2 state fee charged to purchasers, which goes to the State Police to offset program costs. There is no such federal fee, they say.
Response times might improve, State Police say, if legislation to boost the criminal history check fee clears the General Assembly.
A bill to boost the fee to $5 was filed by Sen. John Watkins in 2009, but it died in the House of Delegates. Watkins is a Powhatan County Republican who, like McDonnell, voted for the handgun limit law in the 1990s but now favors repealing it.
However, he doesn't support doing away with state background checks because he fears it would undermine Virginia standards.
"I'm worried that the federal system is not going to protect us from the sale of weapons to people like Cho," Watkins said. "The system has got to work better and the only way I think you're going to get that is to set your own standards and impose them."
That sentiment is shared by others who support keeping the state system.
"Our state police are leaders in the country in processing background checks," keeping guns away from those disqualified to purchase them and apprehending those who try to illegally obtain firearms, said Lori Haas, a board member with the Virginia Center for Public Safety and the mother of a student shot at Virginia Tech in 2007.
Total nonsense. Gun Control is becoming the third rail of modern politics in the United States.
People’s Republic of New Jersey does the same thing . Just another money maker for the state because they do the federal check anyway . Also, because of the State check, you can’t buy a firearm on Sunday because the offices aren’t open.
That means that if you have a permit to purchase a handgun and it expires in 90 days you loose 12 days because of the Sunday ban.
Seems to me that's a good reason to get rid of it right there. Police have too many "tools" to entrap citizens now.
Uh, no - in VA, there is no “permit to purchase a handgun”, and no registration. You want one, go buy it.
Sort of different.
I threw that tidbit in to show how you get DOUBLY screwed in The People’s Republic of New Jersey.
Except, of course, that your state checks go through the national system. The national system legaly cannot maintain the records for more than 24 hours. They also present us with a way to attack any sort of "registration" scheme at its root by reforming the national system in any of several ways that would be popular. Remove the state check and you do away with another potential registration system that is far more invasive of privacy now, because of the Virginia "one gun a month" law. You also set precedent for doing away with the national system.
To buy a gun in VA you basically need a driver’s license and not be a convicted felon, if memory serves. VA is also a ‘shall issue’ state for CCW - pay yer $50, pass a background check, and you get your CCW. Open carry is even easier. I have never experienced a problem during the 45+ years I’ve been actively shooting. That’s not to say we needn’t keep our guards up regarding the Feds. VCDL, by the way, is a PIT BULL when in comes to 2nd Amendment rights. Richmond is scared to death of them.
It would seem to me it would make sense to keep any required background check at the state level (Commonwealth in the case of Virginia). Why give that authority to the Feds? (Full disclosure: I am a “states rights” proponent.)
I hope that is true. If it is, how is the State system used to enforce the "One gun a month" law?
Through state police HQ records queries linking your particulars to a criminal records clearance check within previous 30 days. It is my understanding there’s no details about the gun itself or the outcome of the transaction. Also, Virginia CCW holders are exempt from the one gun per month rule.
Open carry is even easier.
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In VA you can also carry in your vehicle’s glove compartment or console.
You ‘always’ could carry open in vehicle but if a corner were covered it could (have been) be construed as being concealed, so as to get around it people would carry it on their dashboard - but there are also other laws about stuff on the dash and you know how ‘people’ freak out when they see a real, live gun (pistol).
They have a couple of ‘vague’ restrictions - one as to where alcohol is being served.
The ‘meat’ of the “YOU MAY NOT CARRY...etc...even with permit” says
any restaurant or club that sells alcohol that has been granted by VA ABC Board-then, seemingly as an afterthought (need to read the whole thing couple of times to get proper meaning) - ends up saying ...while consuming an alcoholic beverage.
As to church, strictly forbidden at any meeting place for religious purposes but ends up with ‘without good and sufficient reason’.
No courthouse or school property with exception in motor vehicle on school property IF you have valid permit.
No air carrier airport terminal.
The only one that isn’t open to or can be argued (other than courthouse) is if owner of property prohibits or a sign is posted prohibiting.
Here in Virginia, if you have a CCW you can purchase more than one handgun per month.
The CWP process in VA is very easy, if you are military, fill out the form pay $45 get it in a couple of weeks. If not military, there is an online course that took my wife 14 minutes to complete. The cert from that and $45 bucks she had hers in a couple of weeks.