A two-decade fight to erase the toughest gun control law on Virginia's books is drawing to a close as pro-gun lawmakers move to finally end restrictions on handgun purchases.
The Virginia Senate on Monday voted 21-19 to lift the state's one-handgun-a-month law, all but ensuring the limit's demise. The House of Delegates passed its own version of the bill late last week and Gov. Bob McDonnell's staff confirmed Monday he will sign it as soon as one of the measures clears both chambers.
The one-handgun-a-month law was put in place in the 1990s under former Gov. Doug Wilder, a Democrat, who said it was needed to remedy a gunrunning epidemic. Legal buyers would purchase guns in bulk and sell them on the black market and the guns started showing up at crime scenes up and down the East Coast.
A 1992 study by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives showed that one in four handguns confiscated in New York City and one in every three nabbed in the District had been bought in Virginia.
Though Virginia remains a steady exporter of guns to other states, the percentage of firearms turning up along the East Coast from Virginia has dropped, ATF figures show. In 2010, Virginia was the top supplier of out-of-state guns to New York with 415 and Maryland with 410. It was second or third largest source of guns in a handful of other states, including the District, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
An ATF spokesperson said states with the most lax gun control laws in the region are often the source of firearms for nearby jurisdictions. Catching individuals who supply weapons is a difficult task as well, he said, even if the gun is registered and the original purchaser is found.
Opponents of Virginia's limit, largely Republicans with a few rural Democrats, argued that the limit of one handgun a month is no longer necessary because tracking technology has improved. Besides, they said, the law restricts law-abiding citizens from purchasing multiple handguns for protection and pleasure.
But Democrats warned of a return to the mid-1990s when Wilder called Virginia "the No. 1 source state for handguns on the East Coast" and questioned why anyone would need to buy more than one handgun in 30 days.
"In the last 20 years, if you could only purchase one handgun a month, right now you would only be able to have 240 handguns," Sen. Minority Leader Dick Salslaw said. "If you need more than 240 handguns, I'd submit something is wrong with you."