In second vote, Senate defeats bill to close gun show loophole
Sen. Henry Marsh considered reworking his bill to pick up more support but instead sought another floor vote.
By Mason Adams and Michael Sluss
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RICHMOND -- The Virginia Senate killed a bill Wednesday that would have required criminal background checks for nearly all firearms sales at gun shows.
The bill was initially defeated in a vote on Tuesday, but senators used a procedural move to keep the bill alive and give its sponsor, Sen. Henry Marsh, D-Richmond, a chance to rework it to pick up more votes. Marsh considered alternatives that would have softened the measure, but decided Wednesday to seek another floor vote on the original bill. The Senate's 21-19 vote ended debate on the issue for this year.
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. The bill's opponents have argued that the legislation is unnecessary and could lead to measures that would prohibit all private firearms transactions.
Similar bills have been killed the last several years before making it to the full Senate, but Gov. Tim Kaine infused new life into the legislation last year by making it one of his priorities after the April 16, 2007, mass shootings at Virginia Tech.
Seung-Hui Cho, the mentally ill gunman who killed 32 people and himself, did not get his firearms from a gun show. But supporters of Marsh's bill, including families of some Tech shooting victims, argued that someone with a dangerous mental illness could skirt an instant background check by seeking out a private seller at a gun show.
"There isn't any reason why someone who is dangerously mentally ill or a felon should be able to get a gun under any circumstances and I continue to be surprised that people feel like that is OK," Kaine told reporters Wednesday before the vote.
Three Democratic senators from Western Virginia -- John Edwards of Roanoke, Phillip Puckett of Russell County and Roscoe Reynolds of Henry County -- joined Sen. Edd Houck, D-Spotsylvania County, and 17 Republicans in voting against the bill.
Marsh said after the vote that other versions he had considered "would have weakened the bill so that it would have defeated the purpose of the bill."
"I'd rather come back when I can get a good bill rather than to pass something that doesn't mean anything," Marsh said.
The defeat of the bill disappointed two parents of Virginia Tech students who were wounded in the campus shootings. But Andrew Goddard and Lori Haas, who have followed the debate throughout the legislative session, said they preferred Marsh's bill to weaker alternatives.
"We always wanted Senator Marsh's bill," said Haas, whose daughter Emily was wounded in Norris Hall.
Goddard, whose son Colin also was injured in the shootings, said the gun show legislation "shouldn't be a political issue." He expressed annoyance with opponents of the bill who have argued that legislation is not needed because Cho did not get his firearms from a gun show.
"If I hear one more person tell me that Cho didn't get his gun from a gun show, I think I'll explode," Goddard said. "Because we're not that stupid ... This is not an issue that is going to change what happened at Virginia Tech. You can't go back and change what happened in the past, no matter what you do. What we're looking at is -- let's close down all the avenues that somebody who shouldn't have a gun could use."
Goddard said he also was bothered that some have suggested the Tech victim families are being exploited by gun control advocates.
"I've had a lot of feedback that the families are being used as political pawns in this thing, that we're being paraded around and used as window dressing by people who have other motives," Goddard said. "I find it extremely insulting that people would think that we are puppets in this game. We got into this because of our experience, there's no doubt about that. But it's that that's motivating us. We're not taking instructions from anywhere."