- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2008

RICHMOND (AP) — An emotional Gov. Tim Kaine yesterday proposed mandated background checks for everyone who attempts to purchase firearms at gun shows — legislation he called critical to helping prevent future tragedies like the shootings at Virginia Tech.

Many families of those killed or injured in the April shootings have called on lawmakers to close Virginia’s so-called gun-show “loophole,” which allows people to purchase firearms from unlicensed sellers at gun shows without having to submit to background checks. Under current Virginia law, only licensed dealers are required to run background checks on customers.

“If by doing this, we can keep one family from having to go through what these families have suffered, it will be the best thing that the legislature will do this year,” Mr. Kaine said at Virginia State Police headquarters, surrounded by several of the victims’ families.

Seung-hui Cho, who killed 32 persons before committing suicide April 16, passed a background check and bought two guns despite having been deemed mentally defective by a Virginia court. Cho bought one of the guns from an Internet site and picked it up at a pawn shop. He bought the other at a gun store.

Mr. Kaine has since signed an executive order requiring that anyone ordered by a court to get mental health treatment be added to a state police database of people barred from buying guns.

Mr. Kaine, who wiped tears from his eyes several times during the press conference, now finds himself squarely in the middle of a politically sensitive and emotional debate that has only grown more heated since the Virginia Tech shootings.

Attempts to close the loophole in past legislative sessions have failed repeatedly, and those pushing the legislation again this year concede passage would be difficult.

“This has been a bill that’s been a challenging bill in the past — let’s be realistic,” said Mr. Kaine, a Democrat. “But I think people have an awareness of how a loophole that might seem theoretical, as was the case in April, could lead to very, very serious harm.”

Opponents argue it infringes on Second Amendment rights and note Cho did not purchase his weapons at a gun show.

State Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell said he is not aware of any data suggesting the loophole has created a public safety problem and said the shootings at Virginia Tech have nothing to do with gun shows.

“This question really is not about gun shows. It’s about what do we do about regulating transactions between two law-abiding adults in their home or at a gun show or anywhere else?” said Mr. McDonnell, a Republican. “It’s a much broader issue, and I’m not sure that layering on the additional checks that we’ve currently got for public sales should be done.”

The governor said background checks take just minutes to conduct and insisted they would not place an unreasonable burden on gun owners or sellers.

Last month, Mr. Kaine proposed legislative reforms aimed at fixing mental health system failings exposed by the shootings. Cho was ruled a danger to himself during a court commitment hearing in 2005, but never received the mental health treatment he was ordered to undergo.

Virginia’s legislative session begins today.

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