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Virginia gun sales soar without one-gun limit

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Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

Virginia has seen a spike in gun sales since abolishing a long-standing state law that limited buyers to one handgun a month.

The state recorded slightly more than 29,000 firearm transactions in the month since the limit was lifted July 1. That's a 17 percent jump from June, the last month the restrictions were in place, according to the Virginia Firearms Transaction Center. It's a 29 percent jump compared with July 2011, when 22,547 transactions were recorded.

The recorded transactions reflect the number of times a registered gun dealer does a background check on a buyer, but more than one gun could have been purchased in any transaction. The state does not specifically track the number of guns sold. The total also doesn't include guns sold privately without a background check.

Gun sales were up generally in Virginia this year even before people could start buying multiple handguns again. Sales grew by 22 percent from January to June.

Still, sales were much higher in July than in any previous month, thanks in part to multiple handgun sales.

One gun dealer, NOVA Firearms, has seen multiple handgun sales jump 20 percent to 30 percent since the ban was lifted, owner Dennis Pratte said. Some gun buyers, including those licensed by the state to carry a concealed weapon, were allowed to buy multiple handguns, but most buyers were covered by the ban.

"We are seeing more" multiple sales, Pratte said. "We see a lot of husbands and wives come in and buy two guns at a time, but maybe the husband puts it all on his card. Primarily, it's family members, or people buying pairs or match sets of revolvers. It's more of a convenience for the law-abiding citizens."

Virginia's one-gun-a-month limit was enacted in 1993 to stop illegal gun-running. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reported at the time that 40 percent of the 1,200 guns found at crime scenes in New York had come from Virginia.

Virginia lawmakers and gun rights advocates have long argued that the law was ineffective and unnecessary, particularly with the increased reliability of background checks.

One thing is unchanged, however. Virginia remains the No. 1 out-of-state source for guns found at New York City crime scenes. An ATF study done last year shows more than 400 guns coming from Virginia, though it also showed more than 300 guns coming from other East Coast states and from as far away as California.

Gov. Bob McDonnell signed legislation abolishing Virginia's restriction in February.

Criticism from gun control advocates has increased, though, following a mass shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater on July 20, and after the weekend shooting spree at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

"The greatest fear is that you'll have an increase of straw purchases and we'll return to our status as the No. 1 gun-running state in the country," said Del. Mark Sickles, D-Franconia. "I'm not worried about the people that value their right to carry guns. I'm worried about people that are out of control like we've seen the last few weeks."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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