- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2008

RICHMOND | Disabled and down on his luck, former gun dealer Alfred “Speedy” Mercer sold some of his firearms collection a couple years ago to help pay the bills.

He sold some at gun shows, and as a private seller he no longer had to conduct the background checks on buyers that federally licensed dealers are required to perform.

That “gun-show loophole” has been debated by gun advocates and opponents in Virginia for more than a decade. But on Tuesday, Republican legislators on the Virginia State Crime Commission took the debate in a new direction. Instead of focusing on whether private sellers at gun shows should be required to do the checks, they argued legislators’ time would be better spent determining whether someone such as Mr. Mercer would fit the federal definition of a private seller or a dealer.

“I’m concerned because I’ve read that definition three or four times now and I can’t tell you whether you fit under it or not,” said Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, Virginia Beach Republican, told Mr. Mercer during the meeting.

Federal law requires those whose “principal objective of livelihood and profit” is the sale of guns to get a federal firearms license. Those who fit the definition but do not obtain a license face federal charges.

Mr. Stolle — a hunting enthusiast who said he buys and sells three to five guns a year — said rather than worry about private sellers, legislators should more clearly define how many sales qualify an individual as a dealer. That way, Mr. Mercer and others trying to cash in on their investments don’t run the risk of being labeled an illegal dealer.

“I sold guns because I was desperate for money and had none, and it was legal for me to sell those guns,” said Mr. Mercer, of Staunton, who wore a neon orange “Guns Save Lives” button.

Gun shows are regulated by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and state police officials said they wouldn’t know where to begin tracing transactions at Virginia’s gun shows.

Gun control proponents say Republicans are trying to divert attention from the real issue: finding out to whom the guns are being sold.

This year the families of those injured and killed in the mass shootings at Virginia Tech led an effort to close the gun-show loophole, but even their emotional pleas weren’t enough.

Virginia is one of 33 states that does not require private sellers at gun shows to do background checks.

Commission Chairman Delegate David Albo, Fairfax Republican, said the group wouldn’t waste its time on whether the checks should be required of private dealers because that proposal has been defeated repeatedly.

The commission makes its recommendations to legislators each year before the General Assembly meets in January.

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