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EDITORIAL: Guns and the Virginia election

- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 29, 2009

With just days to go before the election, Virginia Democrats are getting desperate. In the race to become the commonwealth's next attorney general, state Delegate Stephen Shannon is trying to tar his opponent, state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, for purportedly giving guns to convicted felons. Mr. Shannon is sending around literature with a scary picture of a violent criminal claiming: "FACT: Ken Cuccinelli, candidate for attorney general, voted to allow violent felons to purchase guns in Virginia."

We hate to break it to Mr. Shannon but this isn't going to be his Willie Horton ad. Mr. Shannon's convoluted logic goes this way: Since Mr. Cuccinelli voted against regulating the private sale of guns at gun shows, that means he supports felons having guns. Never mind that it is still illegal for felons to have guns and the senator supports that ban.

What Mr. Shannon is really referring to is the misleadingly named "gun show loophole." There is in fact no loophole. The rules for buying guns outside a gun show are precisely the same as they are at a gun show. Two types of people sell guns: registered dealers and private individuals. Registered dealers must fill out the same forms and meet the same requirements regardless of where they sell a gun. Private transfers are unregulated, but they are unregulated both inside and outside of gun shows. When pressed, most gun-control advocates admit what they really want is to regulate the private transfer of all guns, whether they are between a father and a son or anyone else.

There is no evidence that criminals use arms from gun shows to commit crimes. In 1997, during the Clinton administration, the Bureau of Justice Statistics conducted a survey of 18,000 state prison inmates, the largest survey of inmates ever. Fewer than 1 percent of inmates (0.7 percent) who "possessed" a gun indicated they obtained it at a gun show.

Mr. Cuccinelli checked into all this even further. When the legislation came up in the Virginia Senate, he asked those advocating gun-show regulations to produce a single instance, ever, of an armed felony being committed in Virginia by someone who bought his gun at a gun show. According to Mr. Cuccinelli, they never came up with one. The only example they dug up was a case from 1999, a full decade ago, all the way across the country in the state of Washington.

There are real costs to these regulations. Research indicates gun-show regulations reduce the number of gun shows by 20 percent. Other recent work by economists at the University of Maryland and Harvard find that gun shows actually modestly reduce homicides and have no impact on suicides within 25 miles. Regulations that make guns more costly make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to buy guns for self-defense. Not a single academic study shows that regulating the sale by private individuals of their own guns reduces any type of violent crime.

Mr. Shannon's attacks on Mr. Cuccinelli are not only false; the policies that Mr. Shannon advocates would disarm law-abiding Virginians and increase crime. That's the real election issue for Virginians who care about their personal safety.