House Subcommittee Passes "One Handgun A Month" Repeal

Friday, February 12, 2010

Last night, the Washington Post reported that a bill repealing "one-handgun-per-month" in Virginia "slip[ped] through House subcommittee". The Post article quoted Lori Haas, a Virginia Tech mom (her daughter Emily survived being shot by Seung-Hui Cho on April 16, 2007) that "she believes behind-the-scenes maneuvering allowed a subcommittee to take action on a bill to repeal a ban on buying more than one gun in a 30-day period while no one in her camp was looking."

Here's the unanimous vote on HB 49. I'm not pleased about this for a few reasons.

First, on the merits, I disagree with repealing one-handgun-a-month. As the Brady Campaign explains, "Gun traffickers often employ straw purchasers to buy firearms in bulk - the guns, in turn, are sold on the illegal market, often to juveniles, and eventually wind up on our nation's streets." Specifically with regard to Virginia's one-handgun-a-month law, the Brady Campaign says that it has "greatly disrupted the gun trafficking pattern from Virginia to states in the northeastern United States," with the Virginia State Crime Commission concluding that, "Virginia's [One-Handgun-Per-Month] statute has had its intended effect of reducing Virginia's status as a source state for gun trafficking. The imposition of the law does not appear to create an onerous burden for law-abiding gun purchasers."

Second, on the politics of this, keep in mind that even Bob McDonnell voted for "one-handgun-a-month" when it was first enacted in 1993, so just a few years ago, this was a bill that even hard-core conservatives could (and did) support. What changed? Also, I'd point to a 2007 CBS/NY Times poll which found, "Two-thirds of the adults surveyed Friday through Sunday said the laws covering the sale of handguns should be stricter and 27 percent said the laws should be kept as they are now. Only 5 percent said the laws should be less strict." (Note: a poll taken a few months after this bill was passed indicated "83.4% of Virginians supported the proposed handgun limit law," with even 74.7% "of those with handguns in their households answer[ing] in the affirmative")

Third, whatever your position on this issue happens to be, the way this bill was passed through subcommittee - with essentially no notification of the public or the press - is definitely not the way to conduct important business. In addition, I'm truly amazed that this bill passed unanimously, with even the Democrat on the subcommittee - Mark Keam, who I endorsed in the primary and strongly supported in the general election - voting in favor. I'm really having a hard time understanding Del. Keam's vote on this, especially since making it unanimous makes it more likely the bill could be placed in an uncontested block for the full committee's consideration, essentially the "fast track" for a piece of legislation. As another delegate told me, "[h]eavy lifting is expected to be done at subcommittee," with the full committee often "go[ing] over each bill quickly if it's unanimous." It seems obvious to me that a bill of this magnitude at least deserves a robust debate from the full committee, even if it's almost certain to pass the Republican-controlled House of Delegates.

UPDATE: HB 49 has passed out of committee, on a 15-6 vote, with Del. Mark Keam and 5 other Democrats voting "nay."