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Virginia Dem introduces gun control bill again, but now with the majority in both chambers

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A Virginia Democrat introduced a bill to expand the commonwealth’s background checks by closing what is often called the “gun-show loophole.”

Currently, state law permits a person to purchase a gun without getting a background check if the transaction occurs through a private sale at a gun show or through any other unlicensed dealer. House Bill 2 would extend background check requirements to all private transfers of these weapons with the exception of transfers between family members.

Del. Ken Plum, D-Fairfax, told The Center Square in a phone interview that he had introduced similar legislation about a half a dozen times, but the bills failed to pass through the Republican-controlled legislature. In November, Democrats took control of both legislative chambers with the promise to pass more gun control legislation.

Plum said that the Democratic victory shows that “the public wants common sense bills” on issues, including gun violence. He said that nearly 90 percent of Virginians support universal background checks.

Plum said that his proposal would not put limits on guns, but rather it would only affect the enforcement of current background check laws, which seek to prevent people who have committed violent crimes from accessing guns. He acknowledged that some people will oppose any legislation that mentions guns.

According to a Washington Post-Schar School poll last month, 88 percent of Virginians support universal background checks, including 81 percent of Republicans. These findings have been disputed by some pro-gun groups, such as Gun Owners of America, whose research found that 78 percent of gun rights activists said that they are single issue voters when it comes to guns and that 92 percent would not vote for a legislator who supports universal background checks.

Erich Pratt, senior vice president of GOA, told The Center Square in an email that Democrats in swing districts could run into trouble with getting re-elected if they support expanded checks.

Pratt said that expanding background checks would be ineffective in stopping crime and could have negative effects, such as opening the door to a gun owner registration.

“The Obama administration correctly conceded in 2013 that universal background checks are not possible without comprehensive gun owner registration,” Pratt said. Arguing that the legislation would be ineffective, he said, “Chicago and Baltimore have Universal Background Checks, which means that no one there can legally purchase a firearm without getting permission from the government. And yet, these cities have two of the highest murder rates in the country.”

Pratt also said that 95 percent of denials for gun purchases are false positives, which means that most people who are denied access to guns have a legal right to own them.

The legislation will be brought into consideration in January after the new members of the state legislature are sworn in. Newly appointed Democratic leaders in both chambers have said they plan to change Virginia’s gun laws; Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has already backed expanded background checks and other gun control bills.