The following video (see the bottom of this post), by VA-10 Democratic candidate Dan Helmer – of him going to a gun show and purchasing an assault rifle, with no background check, in under 10 minutes – has received a great deal of media attention. According to the Helmer campaign, the video has received a total of 2.68 million views as of around 11:15 am this morning: 1.2 million views on Twitter (also 18.8k retweets, 29.4k likes) and 1.5 million views on Facebook (on NowThisPolitics, Dan Helmer for Congress and VoteVets.org). Clearly, there’s a great deal of interest in this story, and in the broader issue of access to guns in this country. And for good reason!
Sadly, the fact that Helmer was able to go to do what he did isn’t a fluke. As I noted in yesterday’s news clips, back in 2013, State Senator Adam Ebbin and Del Patrick Hope did something similar, when they went to a Virginia gun show and “easily purchased a handgun…without undergoing a background check.”
So…five years later and nothing’s changed here in Virginia with regard to the ease of purchasing assault weapons? Pretty much. Except for one thing that was SUPPOSED to make this situation better: back in 2016, then-Governor McAuliffe reached a “bipartisan deal to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and people who cannot pass background checks.” That’s how McAuliffe and his allies described it at the time, anyway. Now I don’t know about you, but personally I’d be much more inclined to trust Virginia Tech mom and gun violence prevention leader Lori Haas on this one than a slippery salesman like TMac. Here’s a short excerpt from what Lori Haas had to say at the time (bolding added by me for emphasis):
The final part of the deal — allowing the Virginia State Police to conduct voluntary background checks at gun shows — is hardly worth mentioning. Private firearm sellers who want to conduct background checks on buyers at gun shows can already do so through federally licensed firearm dealers. The governor should have fought for mandatory universal background checks on private sales, a wildly popular policy supported by 88 percent of Virginians, according to a recent poll from Christopher Newport University…
…A good compromise, a wise politician once said, is when both sides are unhappy. The glee the radical NRA and Virginia Citizens Defense League have expressed about this deal, as opposed to the anger and disappointment of gun violence prevention advocates, is a dead giveaway that McAuliffe did not get the best public safety package he could have.
So yeah, this deal was awful. And I said so, repeatedly, at the time, as did Andy Parker, Lori Haas, Everytown for Gun Safety, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, etc. What’s even more frustrating is that McAuliffe’s dirty deal with the NRA completely undercut Attorney General Mark Herring, who had just announced a few weeks earlier that “the commonwealth will no longer recognize out-of-state concealed handgun permits, part of a national push to circumvent legislatures opposed to tightening gun laws.”
Fast forward to 2018, and how – if at all – are Virginians any better protected from gun violence? The short answer is that they don’t appear to be. For instance, per this July 2017 Richmond Times-Dispatch article, “During the first full year of the measure ending June 30, only 54 voluntary background checks were requested by private sellers of firearms or their customers at 77 gun shows across the state…By comparison, 39,738 mandatory criminal background checks were performed by federally licensed firearms dealers on their customers.” And per this May 1, 2018 Washington Post article, “In 2016, state police conducted 39 background checks on private sales at gun shows. The number was down to 30 in 2017… The numbers are a tiny fraction of the 41,919 background checks conducted at gun shows statewide in 2016, the 35,267 in 2017″ (bolding added by me for emphasis). Finally, regarding the part of the gun deal where TMac et al drastically expanded access to concealed carry permits in Virginia, it turns out that between 2016 and 2017, there was about a 25% increase in the number of nonresident concealed carry permits issued, and a total of more than 15,000 such permits issued those years.
Great, huh? Nope.
With that, here’s Dan Helmer’s video, demonstrating how quickly and easily you can walk into a gun show here in Virginia and purchase an assault rifle without a background check. Feeling safer yet? Hmmm….
Last week, I went to a gun show to find out how easy it is to buy an assault rifle. What I found was terrifying – it took less time to buy a weapon of war than a cup of coffee. #VA10 #NeverAgain #VetsVsTheNRA pic.twitter.com/d6bYxe6ADj
— Dan Helmer (@HelmerVA10) April 30, 2018