With No More Limit, Virginia Gun Sales Shoot Through Roof

Firearms have been flying off store shelves all year in Virginia, but last month -- the first in 20 years that didn't limit buyers to one handgun -- saw the most sales yet.
by | August 10, 2012

Firearms have been flying off store shelves all year in Virginia, but last month -- the first in 20 years that didn't limit buyers to one handgun -- saw the most sales yet.

"They were up significantly," said Robert Marcus, owner of Bob's Gun Shop in Norfolk. "I'd say about 30 percent."

Background checks for firearms transactions spiked accordingly. In July, 29,072 checks were conducted by the Virginia State Police, a 29 percent increase over the same month last year.

The actual number of guns sold could be much higher. Background checks are required only for firearms bought from licensed dealers, and one check is good for any number of guns, as long as they're part of the same transaction.

That's what upsets those who supported Virginia's one-handgun-a-month restriction. When the law was passed in 1993, the state was known as an easy mark for gun traffickers - a place where the bad guys could get unlimited weapons directly from law-abiding dealers simply by sending in a purchaser who could pass a background check.

Guns from Virginia have been a plague in neighboring states. On Wednesday night, a police officer was shot in New York City with a 9mm Ruger that's been traced to a gun shop in the commonwealth.

"Unfortunately, that's just the latest tragedy," said John Feinblatt, chief policy adviser to Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "It's a pattern. Virginia is the top out-of-state source for crime guns in New York City. By repealing that law, you just took a step backwards."

And so goes the gun debate, one of the most polarizing, emotional divides of modern times. Guns deliver both security and violence, and fear drives much of the angst on both sides.

In pro-gun circles, shedding the handgun limit is seen as victory for Second Amendment rights. For customers, it's a convenience in an uncertain era. Gun sales have been on a steady rise all year in Virginia - up 23 percent so far over last year. They soar across the nation after shooting sprees.

A crazed gunman in Colorado was behind at least part of last month's sales jump. People could easily relate to moviegoers in that darkened theater in Aurora, Colo., on July 20, when, police say, James E. Holmes opened fire, killing 12 and wounding dozens.

Marcus said he's seeing more couples at the cash register: "A husband coming in with his wife and buying two guns - one for him and one for her."

Before the one-handgun law went off the books July 1, that sale would have required two transactions and a background check for both husband and wife.

"The state's rationing scheme is over," Marcus said. "Any customer would be pleased."

Lawmakers in favor of repeal say the limit did little to deter criminals and was gutted by too many exemptions. Just one - an exemption for anyone with a concealed handgun permit - excused 270,000 people.

Some closest to bloodshed remain unconvinced. Families and survivors of the Virginia Tech massacre of 2007 fought to keep the handgun limit, calling its end a "sad day."

Feinblatt, in New York, agrees.

"Making it easier for guns to fall into the hands of criminals, the mentally ill and drug addicts is a lethal decision," he said.

Marcus said he hasn't seen a bump in business like this since the last presidential election, when many worried that Barack Obama would crack down on gun ownership.

"We had a huge spike then," he said. "And a run on ammunition. Manufacturers just couldn't keep up. In one week, we were doing the business we would normally do in a month."

By the following summer, the rush had played out - and Marcus doesn't expect it to revive this November: "The things people were worried about have not materialized. They're less fearful this time."

Ironically enough, Obama hasn't made friends on either side of the rift.

The National Rifle Association and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence both grade politicians on their gun policies.

Both camps have given the president an "F."

©2012 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

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