Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Lobbyists descend on Capitol to try to influence gun dialogue
Advocates on both sides of the gun control debate want their voices to be heard.
The latest from our Blue Ridge Caucus politics blog
From The Roanoke Times
Men and women with neon orange stickers declaring "Guns Save Lives" visited the Capitol, flitting from one office to the next in search of face time with legislators to make the pro-gun case.
Also present were their gun control counterparts, who held an afternoon rally focused on gun violence victims.
Monday’s lobbying event came against the backdrop of ongoing Senate talks to find an accord on a perennial bill to require more background checks on firearm purchases at gun shows. That legislation from Sen. Henry Marsh, D-Richmond, is barely breathing at the moment.
An amended version of his bill to require all gun show sales to go through licensed dealers cleared the Senate Courts of Justice Committee on Friday before it was sent back for more work. Licensed dealers are required to perform background checks; private sellers are not.
While Marsh’s bill is expected to be tabled Wednesday, Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, and Democratic Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, are still working on a deal to broaden record checks. Both men said the loose framework of the idea centers on making voluntary background checks more accessible to private weapons dealers and buyers at gun shows.
And that could be coupled with an incentive to promote participation: civil immunity from gun-related lawsuits.
“The thread of commonality between both sides is everyone wants lawful sales of firearms to law-abiding citizens and no one wants them to fall into the hands of criminals,” Stanley said.
Even a tentative deal is progress to gun control advocates, whose long unfulfilled priority is a law to mandate background checks on prospective buyers before private transactions at gun shows.
Stanley said he is considering a proposal to have gun show promoters set up a “voluntary kiosk” where criminal background checks could be conducted. To encourage private sellers to use the system, the state could give them civil immunity if the firearms they sell later are used in a negligent way, Stanley said.
“Ultimately, what we’re trying to get at is to encourage behavior of voluntary background checks between private sellers and purchasers without making it a compulsory process,” Stanley said.
Stanley said advocates on both sides of the gun control debate have reacted favorably to the idea. He said he will continue to talk with advocates on both sides of the debate in an effort to find common ground on an issue that gets debated year after year in the General Assembly.
“We’re at the table” for Virginia gun policy discussions alongside groups like the National Rifle Association, said Joshua Horwitz of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
That’s a “vastly improved” playing field for gun control advocates even though Horwitz realizes “we may not get everything we want this year.”
It’s all the more meaningful to them because many other gun control bills, such as those to ban high-capacity magazines and make background checks universal, have already been condemned this year. They’ve also lost ground in recent years when restrictions on monthly handgun purchases and concealed carrying of firearms into bars were repealed.
So while discussion is ongoing, the gun control side is still up “against tremendous odds” to change state law, said Andrew Goddard, an advocate whose son Colin was wounded in the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech.
The estimated 500 people in the pro-gun crowd included a mix of smartly dressed suburbanites, military retirees, bikers in leathers, and men with bushy beards and wide-brimmed hats.
This year’s gun rights debate comes in the wake of several mass shootings last year, including in Newtown, Conn., in December. That incident inspired President Barack Obama to pursue tougher federal gun laws.
Anticipating possible action on that front, Del. Bob Marshall, R-Prince William County, has offered legislation to prohibit any Virginia government entity from assisting the feds in implementing such restrictive policy.