Gun control changes since Virginia Tech tragedy
RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - After the Virginia Tech massacre, there was a public outcry for more gun control laws. It's been one of the most highly-charged debates in Virginia. Since then, analysts say Virginia has taken some measures for gun control, but more measures to protect or expand gun rights.
Virginia Tech shooter Seung Hui Cho cleared background checks to buy two semiautomatic pistols, even though a judge found him a danger to himself two years before. That prompted then-Governor Kaine to issue what's considered the biggest boost to gun control since then: an executive order requiring the names of people involuntarily committed to mental health facilities to be submitted to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Lori Haas is the mother of Emily Haas, one of the shooting survivors, and State Director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. "Virginia is one of the states that leads the way in getting adjudications and certain prohibitions, the records of those prohibitions, into the National Instant Background Check System," said Haas.
"But we also put in a procedure where once they're cured, they have the right to restore it," adds Philip Van Cleave, President of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, which advocates for gun rights.
Meantime, private gun sales, from person to person, still do not require background checks.
Reacts Andy Goddard, also a parent of a Virginia Tech shooting survivor and President of the Virginia Center for Public Safety, "We are the best state at administering background checks ... and then we allow 36% without a background check."
Governor McAuliffe announced a bipartisan agreement in 2016 to have State Police provide background checks at gun shows for private sellers who request them. Over the first six months of the program, State Police report spending $300,000 to hire those officers and say they performed 39 requested checks at 41 gun shows. One buyer was blocked and arrested on an outstanding warrant.
"It's not worth the money we're spending to have police officers sitting there and have no body come up," said Van Cleave.
In contrast, State Police data shows there were 21,935 mandatory background checks by federally licensed dealers at those same gun shows, resulting in 178 blocked sales.
In the same bipartisan 2016 agreement, Governor McAuliffe reversed a decision by Attorney General Mark Herring and announced conceal carry permits from 25 states would be honored in Virginia. In exchange, the state can now take guns from people who have two-year restraining orders against them for domestic violence.
In 2013, Delegate Joe Morrissey's effort to ban assault rifles and large capacity magazines died in committee.
A year earlier in 2012, Virginia's one-gun-a-month limit was repealed. Governor McAuliffe tried to bring it back this year. Lawmakers rejected the move.
Republican leadership says the solution to mass shootings is not more gun control than the existing laws.
Explains House Majority Leader and Speaker-designee Kirk Cox (R - Colonial Heights), "Our focus really has tried to be the last 7 or 8 years, with the whole Cho tragedy, the mental health system is really what needed to be looked at." He points out funding has been increased since then for mental health treatment, emergency drop off centers, and to help ensure beds are available.
But gun control advocates say more needs to be done to protect people from gun violence.
Said Goddard, "It's taken 10 years to get to where we are today. We've still got a long way to go."
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