Legislation aimed at requiring criminal-record checks for all firearm transactions at gun shows, including those by private sellers, won't advance this year, but members of a state Senate committee pledged Wednesday to work toward a compromise that could expand background checks on firearm purchases.
The Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted 8-7 Wednesday to kill the legislation. The bill was voted down after committee members on both sides of the issue failed to cement a compromise that would enable private sellers at gun shows to seek background checks on a voluntary basis.
Gun control advocates for years have pressed legislators to pass a law requiring criminal-record checks for all firearm sales at gun shows. Buyers can purchase guns from private sellers at gun shows without submitting to a check. Federally licensed dealers who sell firearms at the same shows must conduct the checks.
Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, who initiated the efforts to work out a compromise, promised to continue negotiations and come up with a bill for next year. Stanley said he and other committee members had developed “a working solution in conceptual form” but need more time to work on the legislation.
Under the framework that Stanley described Wednesday, gun show promoters “would create a kiosk or a desk where voluntary checks could occur.”
Stanley said the legislation won’t require private sellers to use the background checks but would contain incentives to encourage them to use the system and make background checks “a normal practice.”
“I was encouraged by both sides’ willingness to sit at the table and discuss these issues openly and try to find a solution,” Stanley said.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Henry Marsh, D-Richmond, asked the committee to hold the bill and give members more time to work toward a compromise this year. But the committee’s chairman, Sen. Thomas Norment, R-James City County, insisted that the panel act on the bill Wednesday.
“I am not of an inclination to continue to drag this on,” Norment said.
Norment was the only Republican on the committee to vote for a revised version of Marsh’s bill, which would have allowed private sellers to consign firearms to federally licensed dealers who can access the database of criminal records. Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, was the only Democrat on the committee who voted against the bill.
But Edwards, who has been involved in the negotiations, also wanted more time to work on it this year.
“I think everybody will be satisfied once this is done,” said Edwards, who often breaks with his party on gun issues. Activists on both sides of the issue said Wednesday that there is room to compromise.
“I believe he [Stanley] is sincere, and I believe we’ll work on something over the summer,” said Lori Haas, an gun control supporter whose daughter was wounded in the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech.
Philip Van Cleave, president of the pro-gun-rights Virginia Citizens Defense League, said he could support a compromise that makes background checks “totally voluntary” for gun show promoters and private sellers.