Virginia’s “Phantom Menace”

An all-too-common argument voiced by opponents of sensible gun legislation is the false claim that there is no such thing as the  Gun Show Loophole. The loophole, of course, refers to the fact that private individuals who are €œnot engaged in the business of dealing € firearms can sell guns at gun shows to purchasers without conducting background checks or maintaining any records of sale.

Recently, those who would dismiss the danger of totally unregulated gun sales have been vocal in the Commonwealth of Virginia,  where the Gun Show Loophole remains a hot issue.

For starters,  Richmond Times-Dispatch  columnist Bart Hinkle published an  editorial  on December 5 where he attacked €œthe so-called €˜gun-show loophole. €™ € He referred to a 1997 survey in claiming that only 1 or 2 percent of offenders obtain their weapons from gun shows.  That survey, however, was based on the personal statements of convicted criminals and made no attempt to investigate the veracity of their claims or identify, confirm, and trace the crime guns they reported.  Hinkle also claimed that €œprivate, person-to-person sales is not limited to gun shows, so calling it a €˜gun-show €™ loophole is disingenuous. € If you want to strictly talk semantics, Hinkle is right. Private sellers can also sell guns without any oversight through newspaper classified ads, over the internet, across a kitchen table, or even on a street corner. But does Hinkle think that is supposed to make Virginians feel  safer?

Thankfully, Andrew Goddard-whose son Colin was shot four times during the Virginia Tech tragedy and survived-was on hand to respond to Hinkle €™s column. In a December 10 letter to the  Virginian-Pilot, he pointed out that in 2009, €œthe [Virginia] State Police arrested 68 people attempting to buy guns at Virginia gun shows who were ineligible € to purchase firearms under federal and state law. Goddard continued: €œThese were people who knowingly attempted to buy traceable guns from licensed dealers and voluntarily submitted to a background check. Hinkle would have us believe the ludicrous idea that no ineligible buyers went to the tables of unlicensed sellers nearby and bought identical but untraceable guns that they knew were being sold ‘cash and carry’ with no questions asked. €

The next denial came from Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell on December 13.  In a report by a New York affiliate of ABC News, reporter Jim Hoffer confronted the governor about the Gun Show Loophole. When asked about why the loophole has been left open in Virginia, McDonnell replied, €œIt €™s not open. € When told that individuals could indeed purchase firearms in Virginia without undergoing a background check, McDonnell replied, €œWell, not at a gun show. €

Roanoke Gun ShowHoffer had a surprise for McDonnell, however, informing him: €œWe €™ve witnessed [it] firsthand. We €™ve gone to a Roanoke Gun Show just a few weeks ago and saw how easy it is for anyone, including a criminal if they wanted to, to buy a gun and not have a question asked, not even asked about their name. €

Hoffer was referring to a brand new undercover video he filmed with  Colin Goddard, who is now working with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. During that shopping spree at a Roanoke gun show, Colin purchased the following firearms from private sellers in the span of just one hour: a .40 caliber Sig Sauer Pro semiautomatic pistol, a Mossberg Shotgun, a Tec- 9 semiautomatic assault pistol (along with 50-round ammunition clips), and a .22 caliber semiautomatic carbine. He paid $2,000 in cash, never underwent a single background check, never presented any identification, and never even gave his name. At one point in the video he asks a seller, €œCash and carry, yeah? € to which the seller responds, €œYep, cash and carry! € Stranger yet was that after completing his day at the gun show, Goddard was required to undergo a background check when he turned his firearms over to the Henrico County Police. €œIf  I  know it €™s so easy, € Goddard says, €œI €™m sure the person who is trying to bypass a background check also knows that this is an easy way to [buy guns]. € [A  recent casefrom Front Royal, in which an unlicensed dealer was indicted for selling firearms to convicted felons, shows how true this is.]

Confronted with the fact that he was part of a video that directly disproved his misstatements, McDonnell told Hoffer, €œThe [choice] that we made in Virginia is to not regulate the private sales of firearms. € That policy choice, of course, is not popular with Virginia residents. A  2009 poll from Rasmussen Report  showed that 76% of Virginians think the Gun Show Loophole should be closed. Indeed, even  69% of National Rifle Association members support closing the loophole.

So, please no more denials. It is a fact that criminals and the dangerously mentally ill can and do buy firearms at Virginia €™s gun shows without a background check. The only open question is why McDonnell and his friends still think this is a good idea.

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