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Monday, November 21, 2011

Virginia's Firearm Instant Background Check System Targeted for Elimination

The Virginian Pilot ran this report today that Virginia's instant background check, known as the Virginia Firearms Transaction Program, may be one of the issues debated at the 2012 Session of the Virginia General Assembly.
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.
As you can imagine, the gun ban lobby is less than happy about the prospect.  But the Governor's office has acknowledged that the idea is under review.
A spokeswoman for McDonnell said "informal discussions with interested parties" about the background check system have been held and the subject remains under review.
The idea first surfaced a couple years ago when State Senator John Watkins, who represents Chesterfield, Powhatan, and a small portion of the City of Richmond, proposed raising the current $2 transaction fee to $5.  The fee is charged to gun owners for the check.  At the time, the state police, claimed they no longer had the staff to efficiently run the background checks due to the surge in new purchases that began in the fall of 2008, and the increase would fund new staff to run the system.  The increase also coincided with what had become long delays in approvals, something that the Virginia system, unlike the federal system, had not been known for in the past.  Pro-rights groups, including VSSA, successfully lobbied to kill the bill in the House of Delegates after it sailed through the more liberal State Senate.

The Pilot reports that doing away with the system could be a two edged sword for the Governor.
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.
Both the Virginia program and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) 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 as some pro-rights groups point out, 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.

According to the state police, Virginia's check includes some standards are stricter than the federal prohibitions.  They say ending the state program would undercut aspects of state gun law.  For instance, 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.  Additionally, Virginia law prohibits people with juvenile felony convictions from obtaining a firearm. One reason for the disparity between the federal and state checks related to juveniles is the state has strict limits on access to state juvenile criminal records, therefore, information about youthful felonies doesn't appear in the federal background check system.

Handgun rationing (Virginia's one handgun-a-month) was also mentioned, though the Pilot links the background check to the rationing scheme.  While the background check is a way for the state police to know who has purchased a handgun in the last thirty days, the two are not officially linked.  And, VSSA has already stated to members that repealing handgun rationing is this year's top priority.  While Governor McDonnell is already on record as supporting repeal of handgun rationing, the pilot pointed out that Senator Watkins, who voted for the law in 1993, is also now in favor of repealing it.

This is good news because repeal is going to require people who voted for it to switch their vote.

This is going to be a very active and important legislative session.

1 comment:

Cathy said...

This move ought to streamline the process for law-abiding Virginians to get their concealed carry license.