On Jan. 9, the Virginia General Assembly began its yearly session. As many will recall, the General Assembly of the Commonwealth became political cannon fodder during the 2012 election cycle. From late night show quips that introduced the world to the term "transvaginal" to a personhood bill that would potentially outlaw varying forms of birth control to the repeal of the one-gun-per-month law, Virginia received a great deal of national attention that did not place the state in the most flattering light. The General Assembly also took steps toward creating a safer community for all Virginians, by passing legislation that prosecutes the solicitation of child pornography, tougher DUI sentencing, and gives tax credits to businesses providing private school scholarships.
However, the media focus stayed on the more provocative legislative attempts. Virginia lawmakers ended up as one of the most disliked legislative bodies in recent state history, sitting in the cross-hairs of pundits liberal and conservative alike. I contend, however, that there is one way the General Assembly can both quickly move past last year's ill-advised attempts at legislating its version of morality, and present itself as a national beacon of change for a world engulfed in horrific trends of social violence: Lawmakers can finally close the Gun Show Loophole.
First, it should be noted that using the term "loophole" to describe the law isn't completely accurate. It's not a loophole so much as a poorly written law. Many Virginians and Americans may not realize this, but the Code of Virginia allows for individuals to privately sell firearms, to include the selling of firearms at non-dealer gun shows within the state. In those sales, no background check or waiting period is necessary. You can legally purchase as many firearms as you wish. There have been many attempts over the years to address this issue within the Virginia Code, but thus far no changes have been made. This nation saw many tragedies involving weapons in the past year -- Oregon, Colorado, and most recently Sandy Hook. We have and will continue to grieve the loss of life. However, the situation begs the question: If now is not the time to discuss positive reforms, when exactly is?
The Gun Show Loophole relies heavily on the individuals conducting the sale to be responsible. Seller must ensure appropriate records are maintained, and discern whether individuals who purchase these guns are a risk to themselves or others. Second Amendment proponents will argue that there is no evidence that weapons purchased through a gun show have never been used in crimes. What they won't point out is that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms has reported for two years that Virginia is one of the largest sources of illegal guns for other parts of the country, including New York City. For argument sake, let's say that fact is incorrect. Let's say that not a single weapon purchased in Virginia has ever been used in a crime in this or any other state. The question still remains: In light of all the violence that continues to plague our country, are we really willing to risk the day when we find out that the weapons used at another mass shooting were purchased at a Virginia gun show?
I should state that it's not my belief that we should look for some method of abolishing the Second Amendment, nor should we being placing armed guards at every school in the country. There is a reasonable middle ground that can make life for everyone safer and give many individuals peace of mind, protecting their rights and their families. My belief is that it begins here in Virginia with some form of gun show reform. I believe this could be accomplished in a four-step process:
First, allow an exception in any law for the transfer of antiques, curios, and relics. Allowing gun enthusiasts and aficionados to maintain current practices with respect to these firearms is a simple trade-off. Requiring that these types of weapons are no longer operational would ensure that they pose no danger.
Second, address gun enthusiasts concern regarding a state-wide gun registry. Rather than making a back door attempt to mandate the registration of all firearms, the goal would be relaxed bill of sale bookkeeping requirements for licensed dealers, which would still create a very accurate history of transactions for any firearm. This method would not require any new registration requirements.
Third, the law should separately address private transfers of firearms between family members and close acquaintances. Individuals selling or transferring a firearm should maintain a document and submit that document to the Virginia State Police or an authorized agency in lieu of a background check as mandated by Virginia Code. The document could be a form that citizens could download from a law enforcement or government agency website, print, complete, and maintain with their own records. It would list the firearm, any necessary information found on a bill of sale and the relationship to the purchaser. If an individual fraudulently uses the document in order to avoid conducting the mandatory background check then that individual should be cited in the same manner as any individual would for forging a Commonwealth government document. Private citizens conducting firearm transactions with strangers would still be required to conduct a background check. As those checks can be costly, this exception would help limit unnecessary costs.
Finally, all high-capacity magazines and military-style rifles must go. As a former Army officer with combat experience who has fired on and been fired upon by the enemy, I can tell you that a weapon like the AR-15 -- the civilian version of the M4 family of weapons -- was designed to inflict severe damage on the human body. It was not built for target practice or hunting wild boar. It's a tool of war.
I don't have the space to truly engage this topic. I present my thoughts as a starting point to help create a discussion on an important issue. There is no one perfect solution to correct the unsettling trend of violence that grips our nation, but measures such as these can go a long way toward producing the type of reform necessary to move things in a productive direction. The only way that we will ever be able to reach a balance is through serious non-partisan discussion on the issue.
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