Advocates Determined to Close Gun Show Loophole in Commonwealth

On January 13, staff from the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence was honored to join victims and survivors from the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech; concerned students from Longwood University; and representatives from Protest Easy Guns, the Virginia Chapters of the Million Mom March, the Virginia Center for Public Safety, and Students for Gun Free Schools as they attended a hearing of the Virginia State Crime Commission in Richmond.

Rally Outside HearingThe Crime Commission was scheduled to make a recommendation to the Virginia General Assembly on the Gun Show Loophole issue. The loophole allows individuals to sell firearms at gun shows without conducting criminal background checks on purchasers. The ATF has identified gun shows as the second leading source of illegally trafficked firearms in the United States, stating that “prohibited persons, such as convicted felons and juveniles, do personally buy firearms at gun shows and gun shows are sources of firearms that are trafficked to such prohibited persons … Firearms [are] diverted at and through gun shows by straw purchasers, unregulated private sellers, and licensed dealers.” An ATF investigationin Virginia found that between 2002 and 2005 more than 400 firearms sold at Richmond-area gun shows were recovered in connection with criminal activity.

The Virginia Tech Review Panel, the Virginia State Police, and an overwhelming majority of Commonwealth residentshave called for the loophole to be closed. Omar Samaha, brother of Virginia Tech victim Reema Samaha, also made it clear to the Crime Commission how easy it was for him to buy handguns and assault weapons at a recent Virginia gun show from private sellers—no questions asked. “It’s like going to the store to buy a jug of milk or a candy bar,” Samaha said. “I had 10 guns in under an hour.”

GSL SignUnfortunately, the Crime Commission failed to heed these recommendations, and deadlocked 6-6 on a vote to recommend that the Gun Shop Loophole be closed. The key vote was cast by House Minority Leader Delegate Ward L. Armstrong (D-Henry), who had joined the commission only days earlier. He claimed his NO vote was because of the high unemployment rate in his district, and the importance of the annual Carroll County Gun Show. This logic was not immediately clear—background checks are inexpensive and gun shows continue to thrive in states that have closed the Gun Show Loophole, such as California. Armstrong also complained about not being well briefed on the issue, but decided to vote NO anyway even after Commission Chairman David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) recommended he abstain.

Gun violence prevention advocates were undeterred, and gathered by the Bell Tower on the State Capitol grounds immediately after the Commission hearing to conduct a Lie-In in remembrance of past victims of gun violence. Courtney Edwards, a Longwood Lie Instudent who lost her best friend, Nicole White, during the Virginia Tech tragedy, spoke and said, “I can’t believe that they are even questioning this. I don’t even understand what the question is about it.” Nicole’s father, Mike White, was more blunt: “Indecision is what caused the murder of my child,” he said. “Indecision today is what will cause convicted felons, [the] mentally ill and others to walk into the next gun show and purchase a weapon in order to wreak more harm.”

The issue will now move to the Virginia General Assembly, where Senator Henry Marsh (D-Richmond) and Senator Janet Howell (D-Reston) have already introduced legislation, SB 1257, to close the Gun Show Loophole.

Advocates are committed to passing the legislation and ready for a tough fight. “I don’t care if it takes a decade,” said Lily Habtu, who was shot multiple times at Virginia Tech but survived. “No one should have to go through what I went through.” Omar Samaha agrees. “We are going to keep going until this law is changed,” he said.

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