RICHMOND — A key Senate committee on Wednesday voted to repeal Virginia's law banning the purchase of more than one handgun a month, a longtime priority of gun-rights activists and a measure that now has the backing of Gov. Bob McDonnell.
On an 8-6 vote, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee approved a bill to do away with the law, originally passed under former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who hoped to remove Virginia's stigma as a "gun-running state."
Proponents, including the bill's sponsor, Sen. Charles W. Carrico Sr. argued that the exemption-ridden law is simply an unfair way to punish law-abiding citizens. Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, supported it as a delegate representing Virginia Beach. He now says that technology has advanced enough to prevent crime and that the law is no longer necessary.
Opponents, though, reminded senators of the original intent of the law.
"The only group this law would currently prohibit is gun traffickers," said Andrew Goddard with the Virginia Center for Public Safety, the father of Colin Goddard, a survivor of the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings.
Sen. John S. Edwards of Roanoke was the only Democrat who supported the measure, and Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., James City Republican, abstained.
The long-simmering issue of gun rights in Virginia has risen to fever pitch in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre in which a gunman fatally shot 32 people. More recently, Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II issued an opinion last year saying colleges need to set regulations in order to restrict guns on campuses and that a policy is not sufficient.
Several schools in the state, including the University of Virginia, Old Dominion University and Virginia Tech, have since approved regulations restricting the possession of guns on campus. Mr. Carrico, Grayson Republican, pulled back a bill Wednesday that would have restricted colleges' ability to approve their own gun-control regulations.
The panel on Wednesday also signed off on a measure to codify a version of the "Castle Doctrine," which allows homeowners to use deadly force against intruders without civil liability, over objections.
"One of our most basic, fundamental rights is to defend ourselves in our own homes," said Sen. Richard H. Stuart, Stafford Republican and one of the bill's sponsors.
The committee, however, carried over to next year a bill introduced by Sen. Richard H. Black, Loudoun Republican, that would do away with state background checks for the purchase of shotguns and rifles and delegate the responsibility to the federal government.
Presently, background checks go through both a state system and the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System, but proponents for the change argue that the state system is underfunded, antiquated and causes undue delays in background checks.
But the state runs both because there are three specific areas - mental health, juvenile records and protective orders - where state statutes do not match up with federal law, said Lt. Col. Robert G. Kemmler of the Virginia State Police.
Sen. Barbara Favola, Arlington Democrat, did manage to push one gun control bill through the Republican-led committee - a measure that would bar people under protective orders from carrying firearms in the homes of the people who are the subjects of the orders, which had the support of the Virginia Sheriffs Association and the Virginia Coalition of Chiefs of Police. The bill passed by a vote of 9-6. Mr. Edwards was the lone Democrat to vote against it, and Mr. Norment and Sen. Bryce Reeves, Spotsylvania Republican, voted in favor.
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