Home Social Issues Virginia GOP Backs Firearms Background Check Bill? Say What?

Virginia GOP Backs Firearms Background Check Bill? Say What?

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( – promoted by lowkell)

As hard as it may seem to believe, there was a firearms background check bill that sailed through the Virginia General Assembly this year, with unanimous/bipartisan support. So, how did that amazing thing come about? Let me explain, but let’s start with a little background.

Since the Brady background check system came into being in the late 1990’s, just over 2.1 million people – who had lost their right to own firearms due to felony convictions, severe mental illness etc. – were prevented from buying guns from licensed dealers. In all these cases, the buyers had to fill out forms and voluntarily subject themselves to a background check, which they failed and were then denied the gun purchase. However, during the same time period, an unknown number of ineligible buyers were able to purchase guns from “private” or unlicensed sellers without having to divulge even the most basic identifying data, such as name, age or state of residency. Estimates vary slightly, but the volume of sales transacted by unlicensed sellers is thought to be about 40% of all gun sales. The pro-gun lobby would have us believe that, despite the fact that millions of licensed dealer sales have been blocked, due to the buyer not being eligible, felons, mentally ill people and other prohibited individuals do not take advantage of this huge, unregulated marketplace to obtain guns that they have no legal right to own.

With this in mind, gun violence prevention groups have for years been trying to extend the existing background check system to all “commercial” firearms sales. “Commercial” means sales that take place in public venues, or that are advertised through newspapers, magazine and the internet. The presumption is that these sales are more likely to be made to people whose background and legal eligibility to own guns are less likely to be known to the seller. Interfamily sales and sales to friends and neighbors conducted over the kitchen table would be exempt, as the onus to determine the background of the buyer would be entirely on the seller.

Each year in Virginia, several bills are proposed that would expand the existing background check system to take in a large part of these unregulated sales, yet each year they are defeated. This year, there were 7 such bills, ranging from an entirely voluntary system, all the way to a true “universal” background check that would cover all commercial sales. All of them met the same ignominious fate – with the exception of one. SB377, patroned by Senator Bryce Reeves (R), was a firearms background check bill with a slightly different aim. It was not designed to check the background of gun buyers, but rather the background of the guns themselves. It seems that some licensed dealers have been buying guns from individuals for later resale, but on the very rare occasions that the BATFE (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) have checked their inventory, some of the guns have been found to be “stolen property”. The stolen guns cannot then be resold, and this constitutes a financial loss for the dealers.

Senator Reeves’ bill proposed that licensed gun dealers should carry out a “background check” on any guns that they intend to buy, in order to find out if they had been stolen, or had any other past history that would make them unsellable. The first thing that was changed about the bill in committee was to remove that terrible word “shall,” which compels people to do things (even if they seem to be common sense). The word “shall” was then replaced with the much more acceptable and permissive word “may.” Thus, dealers could still buy and sell stolen guns if they wanted to, as long as they were aware of the slight risk that a BATFE audit, which might happen once every ten years or so, could find some suspicious merchandise.  

When we examined the bill, it seemed strange that there was no language included that specified what action a dealer should take if they identified a stolen gun that was being offered to them. For instance, there was nothing to say that the gun would need to be handed over to the Virginia State Police, along with some identifying information about the seller, to allow them to follow up and potentially find out who may have stolen the gun in the first place. When we offered an amendment to add such language, the patron was in no way interested in making any changes. Which makes it obvious that the bill was intended simply as a way to protect gun dealers from the financial impact of buying stolen property, which they might not be able to resell. There was not the slightest interest in making any effective attempt to investigate or apprehend the seller of the “hot” firearms.

So there you have it: background checks for gun buyers, ones that could keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals and potentially save lives, have little or no support from GOP legislators. But protecting gun dealers from the possible loss of some cash gets overwhelming backing.

The moral of this story is that perhaps those of us working on gun violence prevention, primarily by trying to make it harder for dangerous people to get easy access to guns, should not concern ourselves so much with the deaths, injuries and suffering that result from that ease of access, but instead just look at the financial implications of gun violence. Perhaps the millions of dollars spent on medical care, the millions of dollars of lost productivity from dead and injured employees, would be a better way to gain some support from our GOP legislators. After all, doesn’t every life have a dollar value in the GOP’s eyes?