by Jesse Jordan
November 18, 2015
Advocates of closing Virginia’s “gun show loophole” made little to no headway in last week’s Virginia General Assembly elections, which resulted in the reelection of all incumbents on the ballot and negligible changes in either chamber. The Republican Party maintained its 21-19 majority in the Senate and lost only one seat in the House of Delegates, bringing its majority to 66-34. Consequently, any effort by Governor McAuliffe to close the “gun show loophole” will almost certainly fail, marking a continuation of last year’s session that saw the death of multiple efforts to require background checks for all firearms transfers at gun shows.
The current Virginia statute requires licensed firearms dealers to run a criminal background check on a potential buyer before selling a firearm at a gun show within the Commonwealth. Individual “vendors” (private sellers) however, are exempt from running criminal background checks when conducting private sales. The loophole, therefore, refers to the ability of individuals legally prohibited from purchasing firearms to engage in private transactions within the gun show environment. Although such individuals can engage in illegal private sales outside of gun shows, the concentrated access to private vendors at gun shows creates concerns among critics.
Several efforts to close the loophole failed in the 2015 session. Senator Marsden introduced a bill (SB694) in the Senate that would have required vendors to conduct criminal background checks prior to conducting a sale. After being incorporated into another Senate bill (SB993) by the Courts of Justice Committee, it ultimately failed to be reported to the floor by a vote of 6-Y to 9-N. Of the nine committee members voting to kill the bill, all retained their seats in last week’s elections.
The House of Delegates defeated two bills that also would have amended current gun show practices. HB1604 would have required all gun show vendors to submit potential buyers’ information for criminal background checks, but it was left to die on the table in the House Militia, Police, and Public Safety Committee. Likewise, HB2370 died on the table in the same committee; it would have provided for access to voluntary criminal background checks if one party in a vendor-buyer transaction requested one. Following last week’s elections, the likelihood of any bill being reported out of the Militia, Police, and Public Safety Committee will likely only decrease, as the only committee member to leave or lose his seat was Scott Surovell, a Delegate with an F-rating by the NRA.
Given the unlikely event that a bill designed to close the gun show loophole managed to even reach the floor of either house, the likelihood that it would pass one house of the General Assembly, let alone both, is very small. The party balance remained the same in the Senate; furthermore, of the six seats to which new Senators were elected, candidates with A-ratings (given by the NRA) filled four. Jeremy McPike (F-rating) replaced former Senator Colgan (D-rating in 2011), and former Delegate Scott Surovell (F-rating) replaced Linda Todd Puller (F-rating in 2011). Even if the Senate managed to pass a bill closing the loophole, the 66-34 split in the House of Delegates would likely prove insurmountable. Only nine new Delegates will report to session in 2016; of those nine, it is likely that only two will support stronger forms of gun control measures relative to their predecessors. Mark Levine (F-rating) replaced Rob Krupicka (C-rating) in District 45, and John J. Bell (D-rating) replaced David Ramadan (A-rating) in District 87.
Overall, it appears that vendors will continue to be able to sell firearms without being required to run a criminal background check on potential buyers, and Governor McAuliffe will continue to face stern opposition from those favoring greater access to firearms.
Jesse Jordan is a Master’s candidate in Public Policy at the College of William & Mary and an Associate Editor of the William & Mary Policy Review.