- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Virginia lawmakers say they will not make major changes to gun ownership in the state, despite calls for reform in response to the Virginia Tech shootings.

“I suspect the different groups who are looking at the Virginia Tech tragedy will come out, but I don’t know how much can be done,” said House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican. “It wasn’t a problem with gun control. It was the problem with a guy with very serious problems.”

Lawmakers also said they likely will permanently close a loophole in Virginia gun laws that allowed Virginia Tech shooter Seung-hui Cho to buy two handguns, despite official records showing a court order indicating he had received mental health counseling.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, issued an executive order last month, with Attorney General Bob McDonnell, a Republican, that temporarily closed the loophole.

“If you are forced to get treatment [for a mental illness] you will probably lose your gun rights,” said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican.

However, lawmakers face additional pressure to make gun-law changes by the independent panel reviewing the April 16 shooting massacre in which Cho, a 23-year-old Tech senior, killed 32 persons, then himself.

Mr. Kaine and other lawmakers have said the findings will help determine their policy-making decisions on gun control, campus safety and mental health services.

“You need to let enough time to pass to look at this … in an impartial light,” said House Minority Leader Ward L. Armstrong, Martinsville Democrat.

Delegate David B. Albo said he is open to tightening laws on the sales of firearms at gun shows.

However, Mr. Albo, a Fairfax County Republican, said there is a general misconception that Virginia gun laws are weak.

“The only thing left to do would be to ban gun ownership, and a federal court said that is unconstitutional,” he said. “There are very few things Virginia can do.”

The Tech massacre is just one of several gun-related incidents recently in Virginia.

An aide to Sen. James H. Webb Jr. was caught trying to bring a gun inside a U.S. Capitol building, a newspaper released the names of 135,000 Virginians with concealed-handgun permits, and a Civil War re-enactor who dresses as Gen. Robert E. Lee called New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg “an idiot.”

The incidents highlight the importance of the gun ownership issue in Virginia.

“Virginia is sort of the cradle of our freedom,” said Philip Van Cleave, president of the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League. “It just has a history of understanding what the Constitution is all about. Up North they seem to forget about it.”

The group is holding a raffle tomorrow to raise money for gun dealers facing legal fees from lawsuits that Mr. Bloomberg’s office has brought against them for reputedly selling guns illegally.

New York City officials have sued 27 gun dealers, including six in Virginia, for selling guns to undercover agents through illegal “straw purchases” in which one person legally fills out a form and buys a gun for someone else.

Mr. McDonnell has sent Mr. Bloomberg, a Republican, a letter warning that such stings will soon be illegal.

Under legislation passed by the General Assembly that takes effect July 1, New York officials must notify the Virginia State Police before they perform such stings.

In response, a Bloomberg spokesman said: “We will not for one second back away from our tough law-enforcement efforts against illegal guns, which have made New York the safest big city in the country. We caught gun dealers on videotape flagrantly violating the law. We wish that the attorney general would put as much time into enforcing the laws already on the books as he does on issuing press releases and engaging in needless turf battles.”

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