- The Washington Times - Monday, January 15, 2007

RICHMOND — Legislation introduced yesterday would require private sellers at gun shows to obtain criminal background checks on buyers.

The measure would close the so-called “gun show loophole” that requires licensed dealers, but not unlicensed dealers who sell from their personal collections, to run background checks on anyone wanting to buy a gun.

Supporters of the bill, introduced by Sen. Jeannemarie A. Devolites Davis, Fairfax County Republican, say it would prohibit guns from falling into criminals’ hands.

“This is not a bill about taking away any of the Second Amendment rights,” Mrs. Davis said at a press conference with supporters. “What this is about is making sure that upstanding citizens possess firearms and that those that are criminals do not.”

Federal law forbids the sale of guns to convicted felons, domestic abusers and juveniles.

Private sellers would have to pay dealers up to $15 to run the background check at a gun show. The bill would require show promoters to provide vendors with access to a licensed dealer who can perform the checks.

Opponents say the bill would unduly burden gun dealers, who must keep records of background checks in case the gun ever is used in a crime. It also would take time away from their customers at a gun show to run the check, said Bruce Jackson, a board member for Virginia Citizens Defense League.

“I’m going to come to you and I’m going to give you five bucks, and you now have to maintain records for me for the next 20 to 25 years for $5. I mean, it’s just not worth it to the dealer,” said Mr. Jackson, who wore an orange “GUNS Save Lives” button on his lapel and was joined by about 20 gun dealers and league members.

Most background checks take only minutes, with 95 percent completed within two hours, according to Virginians Against Handgun Violence.

Mr. Jackson said the small amount of violence committed with guns bought from unlicensed dealers at gun shows — estimated to be about 2 percent of all gun crimes — makes it a “nonissue.”

“This is a solution looking for a problem,” Mr. Jackson said.

S. Buford Scott, a Richmond businessman and gun-control advocate, said any small gain is worth the effort.

“It is no consolation to the family of someone shot with a gun obtained at a gun show to know that criminal was one of the 2 percent that closing the gun show loophole could have prevented the purchase of that gun,” Mr. Scott said.

Mrs. Davis’ bill would make private sellers who get background checks from dealers immune from civil liability if the gun is used in a crime.

Similar bills have died in the Senate for the past four years, but Mrs. Davis said numerous school shootings last year and a shooting spree outside a Fairfax County police station in Chantilly that killed two officers may help to change her colleagues’ minds.

“We’re going to keep bringing this bill up until it does pass,” said Jim Sollo, vice president of Virginians Against Handgun Violence.

Kailey Leinz, an 11-year-old from Burke, urged lawmakers to pass the legislation.

“We need to close this dangerous loophole for many reasons, and also so kids like me won’t feel scared, scared that someone can just come into our school and start shooting,” the sixth-grader said.

Kailey and about 150 others were in Richmond yesterday to urge lawmakers to pass Mrs. Davis’ bill and to remember those killed by gun violence, including Martin Luther King, who died by a sniper’s bullet. At a rally outside the legislative meeting site, the group rang a bell 80 times, once for each youth fatally shot in 2005.

Joseph Monette, 14, of Norfolk, wore a shirt emblazoned with the picture of his friend Kia and airbrushed with the words “Gone but not forgotten.” Kia was 19 when she was struck three times in a drive-by shooting while sitting in front of her church in 2005.

“It’s important to at least pass this one bill to try to stop it,” said his mother, Dawn Arthan.

m Biosolids limits

Several legislators want tighter restrictions on the use of treated sewage sludge as fertilizer on Virginia farmland.

Delegate Kathy J. Byron, Lynchburg Republican, said her constituents are alarmed by a lack of reliable information about the potential health effects of sludge. Some people who live near sludge-covered fields have reported an ammonialike smell, headaches and respiratory problems.

Her bills would give local governments greater authority to restrict the use of sludge and transfer state regulatory authority from the Department of Health to the Department of Environmental Quality.

Delegate Watkins M. Abbitt Jr., Appomattox independent, is sponsoring legislation that would impose a moratorium on spreading sludge until the DEQ determines the product poses no public health risk.

Sludge is largely human waste from local sewage plants that is treated until it resembles dark soil and often given to farmers.

m School club bill

A bill that would require public school students to obtain a parent’s written permission to participate in a school club cleared its first legislative hurdle yesterday.

A House of Delegates subcommittee voted 8-5 to endorse the measure, which opponents say is a thinly veiled attack on homosexual-straight alliances.

Delegate Matt Lohr’s bill now goes before the full House Education Committee.

The bill would require local school boards to notify parents about a club’s mission, activities, and dues or other financial requirements. Parents would have to sign a permission slip before their child could join the organization.

Mr. Lohr, Harrisonburg Republican, said the bill “just gives parents more input” into their children’s activities. He said Harrisonburg and Rockingham counties have successfully implemented a permission slip program.

“If it’s proven to work well, it should be implemented across the state,” he said.

Dyana Mason, head of the homosexual rights group Equality Virginia, said conservative activists are pushing the measure to discourage participation in school support groups for homosexual students. Some students might be afraid to ask their parents’ permission to join, she said.

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