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Virginia has record gun-sale background checks

BY CHELYEN DAVIS

The day after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school, Virginia State Police saw their highest-ever number of gun-purchase background checks.

A Virginia gun-rights advocate says that should be no surprise, given comments from national lawmakers about increasing gun restrictions in the wake of the shootings.

According to state police records, the agency processed 4,166 background checks to purchase guns on Saturday—the highest volume of transactions in one day since the program began in 1989.

It was a 42 percent increase over the number of checks on the same Saturday (Dec. 17) in 2011.

On Friday, the day of the Connecticut shootings, the state police processed 2,770 background check transactions, a 26 percent increase over the same Friday in 2011. Background checks on Sunday were 43 percent higher than the same Sunday a year ago.

Virginia law requires anyone buying a gun from a licensed firearms dealer to undergo a criminal background check through the state police.

State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller noted that the number of background checks isn’t the same thing as the number of guns purchased—the state police don’t track gun purchases as systematically as they do background checks.

Background checks reflect the number of gun customers, not how many guns each individual might buy.

Nor do the background check totals include gun purchases through private sales, as those aren’t required to go through the background check.

Geller said the state police don’t ask gun purchasers anything about why they’re buying a gun, so there’s no way to know for sure if the record-setting number of background checks is related to the Connecticut shootings and the gun-control debate it has sparked in Congress and at the state level.

But Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said the weekend’s rise in background checks is absolutely related to the Connecticut shootings and the subsequent talk about increased gun restrictions.

“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” Van Cleave said Tuesday.

He said when gun owners hear that a type of weapon or magazine might be restricted, they tend to buy more of it, stocking up in advance of a potential ban. It’s the exact opposite, he said, of the effect gun-control advocates hope to have.

He expects to see high numbers of gun sales continue, saying that when the president and congressional leaders talk about gun control, it sends a message to gun owners.

“The gun manufacturers are going to sell tons of these things,” Van Cleave said.

Several federal lawmakers —including Sen. Mark Warner, who has an A rating from the National Rifle Association—have said the shootings should prompt a second look at national gun laws, particularly those pertaining to so-called assault weapons.

“There’s got to be a way to put reasonable restrictions, particularly as we look at assault weapons, as we look at these fast clips of ammunition,” Warner said on Monday.

At the state level, at least one legislator—Sen. Don McEachin—said he feels “morally compelled” to introduce some sort of gun-related legislation in the upcoming General Assembly session.

Van Cleave wants to see gun bills in the session too legislation to allow teachers or school principals to carry weapons.

“We want to see teachers, principals or whatever, whoever wants to go through the training to do it” to be allowed to carry in schools, Van Cleave said, and end the era of schools being “gun-free zones.”

That way, he said, “if this happens, somebody in the building would be prepared for it.”

Gov. Bob McDonnell made waves Tuesday by suggesting the same thing. In his monthly appearance on WTOP radio, McDonnell said that lawmakers should at least discuss the idea of allowing school officials to carry firearms.

“I know there’s been a knee-jerk reaction against that. I think there should at least be a discussion of that,” McDonnell said. “If people were armed, not just a police officer, but other school officials that were trained and chose to have a weapon, certainly there’d be an opportunity to stop aggressors coming into the schools.”

Meg Gruber, president of the Virginia Education Association and a teacher in Prince William County, said her group does not favor that idea.

“In the aftermath of last week’s tragic eventswe need to give careful consideration to measures to keep students safe,” Gruber said. “We don’t believe the answers will come from increasing access to weapons.”

McDonnell said on WTOP that he also thinks there are other factors in plan, such as mental health care.

Geller said the state police have seen a broader uptick in gun background checks— the number of checks processed in November was 50 percent higher than in November 2011.

She noted that the presidential election was in November, and that the state police saw an increase in background checks after the 2008 election as well. She also said that it is hunting season and holiday gift-buying season.

Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028

cdavis@freelancestar.com

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