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A Look Back At Virginia’s One-Gun-A-Month Law As Democrats Work To Revive It

Hand guns
House Bill 4004 and Senate Bill 4002 would restrict the number of handguns a person can purchase to one per month. It will be considered during this week's special General Assembly session. Jason Gillman/Pixabay

Virginia used to have a law limiting the number of handguns an individual could buy, to one a month. The law was repealed in 2012, and now the governor is trying to bring it back during this week's General Assembly special session to take up gun control measures. Bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate that would bring back the buying restriction.

The one-gun-a-month law was passed in 1993 to curb the Commonwealth’s reputation as a place where criminals could stock up on guns and sell them out of state. 

“People would come to Virginia. They could go to a gun dealer. Buy 25; 30 weapons, put them in the back of their car, take them to D.C.” said Randy Rollins, former secretary of public safety under Virginia Governor Doug Wilder. 

Rollins said the I-95 corridor and Virginia’s proximity to cities that had more restrictive gun laws made it convenient for gun running. 

Gov. Wilder had appointed a task force on violent crime and the one-gun-a-month law was one of several measures to come out of that group. 


Randy Rollins, Virginia's former secretary of public safety says a state law that banned the purchase of more than one handgun per month was a success.  (Photo: Whittney Evans/WCVE)


Rollins said the legislation resonated with both Democrats and Republicans in metro areas. They had a tougher time convincing lawmakers in less populated districts.  

“Because they were much more of the rural mentality where hunting is a big issue as opposed to safety in the streets at night,” he said. 

Two years after Virginia passed the law, the State Crime Commission looked back to see if it worked. It found Virginia had fallen from 1st to 8th on the list of states identified as the largest source for firearms trafficking. For Rollins, it seemed like a no-brainer. 

“I always thought that this was not a gun control measure but a practical way of addressing a problem,” Rollins said. 

The commission said the law didn’t seem to be too big of a burden on people trying to buy guns legally. They could still apply for a waiver to buy multiple guns at once. 

WCVE could only obtain federal firearm trace data back to 2006 but is seeking that data going back to 1993 when the law went into effect. The data we have shows little difference in the number of Virginia guns that were recovered in other states prior to and after the law was repealed in 2012. However, there was a jump in the number of Virginia guns recovered around 2016. 


 

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Even though Bob McDonnell voted to approve the law when he was a member of the House of Delegates in the 90s, as Governor, he signed the bill to repeal it. 

“I think the governor and other Republicans at that time became a part of the growing GOP favor of increasing gun rights when possible,” said Thom Kapsidelis, who was covering the story as an editor at the Richmond Times-Dispatch

Kapsidelis wrote the book After Virginia Tech: Guns, Safety, and Healing in the Era of Mass Shootings

He said gun-rights advocates got a big win in 2008 when the Supreme Court, in Washington D.C. V. Heller, struck down D.C.’s handgun ban. 

“The Heller decision was widely seen as a landmark decision for gun rights proponents. And, to them, affirmed their constitutional right to have a weapon,” he said. “But I think it’s also important to note that in the Heller decision, regulation of weapons and where weapons can be used and other gun safety measures are not ruled out.”

Following Heller, gun rights advocates filed hundreds of lawsuits in state and federal courts, challenging restrictions like background checks and limits on assault weapons, but the courts rejected most of those challenges. 

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League said criminals will always find a way around state laws regulating firearms. 

“It’s really all politics,” he said. “And again, that’s why we fight all of it. We don’t need any of it. We could get rid of all of it tomorrow.”

Earlier this year, Republicans killed every effort Democrats presented to tighten gun laws in the state. A proposal to ban the purchase of more than one gun per month failed along party lines. But Gov. Ralph Northam hopes the recent mass shooting in Virginia Beach has instilled urgency to act.  

Van Cleave doesn’t see that happening. Especially for attempts to revive the one-gun-a-month law. 

“New York continued to complain about guns coming from Virginia, all the years that we had a one-gun-a-month,” he said. “It didn’t make a difference.”

The coalition of lawmakers who worked to usher in the gun buying restriction more than two decades ago no longer exists at the General Assembly that reconvenes Tuesday. 

Updated at 10 a.m. July 8.