Gun control bill defeated by Senate
Lawmakers revisited the vote and postponed further action, allowing the bill to be altered.
By Michael Sluss and Mason Adams | The Roanoke Times
RICHMOND -- The Virginia Senate defeated legislation Tuesday to require criminal background checks for all firearms sales at gun shows, but used a procedural move to keep the bill alive and allow its sponsor to revamp it.
Senate Bill 1257, aimed at closing the so-called "gun show loophole," failed on a 22-18 floor vote. Five Democrats crossed party lines to vote "no," while two Republicans joined the remaining Democrats in favor of the bill.
Nearly an hour after the vote, however, legislators reconsidered the vote and then postponed further action on the bill. That leaves the measure alive, but its advocates must persuade at least three of the "no" votes to switch in order to get it passed.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Henry Marsh, D-Richmond, said he hopes to rework the bill to do just that.
"The bill's coming back, but I don't know in what form," Marsh said.
Gun control advocates have tried for years to get legislators to approve bills like Senate Bill 1257, only to see them die in committees. The bill got a push last year, however, when Gov. Tim Kaine made it a priority after the April 16, 2007, mass shootings at Virginia Tech that left 33 students and faculty dead.
Advocates of Marsh's bill say it would close a loophole that allows unregulated private sales at gun shows, giving potential buyers with criminal records or dangerous mental illnesses an avenue to avoid an instant background check. Opponents, however, argue that the legislation is unnecessary and could lead to measures that would prohibit all private firearms transactions.
Marsh said he is considering a few alternatives to his original bill, including a proposal that would give private gun show vendors access to criminal records checks on a voluntary case-by-case basis through licensed dealers.
Sen. John Edwards of Roanoke -- one of three Western Virginia Democrats who voted against the bill -- proposed the same alternative last week to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee and had hoped to debate the idea on the Senate floor.
"It's a compromise," Edwards said. "If it's voted on, I think it could be passed by the Senate."
Edwards said he has heard from private gun sellers who would like to have records checks done for transactions they conduct with strangers, while maintaining the freedom to sell and trade with friends and relatives. Edwards said the proposal would strengthen efforts to keep guns away from criminals and the mentally ill, even if it doesn't go as far as Marsh wanted.
But even Marsh acknowledged that Edwards' proposal could pick up enough votes to pass.
"That's one version that probably would have a chance of getting out," he said.
Some surviving victims and relatives of those killed in the Virginia Tech shootings have lobbied on behalf of Marsh's bill.
Three of them -- Andrew Goddard, whose son Colin was wounded; Lily Habtu, a Tech graduate who was shot twice in Norris Hall; and Lori Haas, whose daughter Emily was wounded in Norris Hall -- watched Tuesday's vote from the Senate gallery.
The Tech victims and families argue that expanding records checks at gun shows would further deter potential buyers who are legally barred from owning firearms.
The Senate on Tuesday also passed a bill (SB 1035) that would allow people with concealed carry permits to take handguns into restaurants and bars that serve alcohol. The bill passed by a vote of 24-16, lacking the support needed to override a likely Kaine veto.