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Warren Fiske
By Warren Fiske March 16, 2015

Will take another shot

Gov. Terry McAuliffe called for expanded gun control during his 2013 campaign.

"How many people have to be killed until we wake up to have sensible gun ownership?" McAuliffe asked during a September 2013 debate in Fairfax County. Nine days earlier, a gunman had killed 12 people and wounded three at the nearby Washington Navy Yard before being fatally shot by police.

McAuliffe said he supported a ban on the public sale of assault weapons, limiting the size of gun magazines and reinstating a law that would limit people to buying one handgun a month in Virginia. Then, McAuliffe made this promise: "As governor, I'm going to push for universal background checks for everyone."

Federal law requires licensed gun dealers to conduct a computerized background check prior to selling a firearm to make sure the buyer does not have a criminal record or mental health condition that would bar him from buying the weapon. But the U.S. does not require background checks for private transactions, such as the sale of a weapon between two people who meet. Some of these transactions occur at gun shows.

This winter, Del. Ken Plum, D-Fairfax, introduced a bill to expand background checks at the behest of the McAuliffe. The measure would have required Virginia gun show promoters to set up systems at their events for conducting background checks on private sales. The sale of antique firearms would have been exempt.

The governor announced his support of the bill in December as part of a gun control package that also included legislation to:

  • reinstitute a one handgun-a-month purchase limit;

  • prohibit possession of firearms for people subject to protective orders;

  • revoke concealed carry permits for people who don't meet their child support obligations.

McAuliffe urged the General Assembly to pass the measures during his State of Commonwealth Speech on Jan. 14, calling the package, "common sense bills aimed at keeping Virginia safe from gun violence without infringing on the rights of responsible, law abiding citizens.

The measures faced long odds in the House of Delegates, which has a long record of defeating gun restrictions. And after the State of the Commonwealth speech, the governor bypassed a number of opportunities to use his bully pulpit for the gun legislation. McAuliffe, for example, didn't even mention guns at the end of January on his monthly radio talk shows  in Richmond and Northern Virginia.

The bills died in the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee. 

McAuliffe, during a March 5 interview with News Channel 8 in Washington, said his goal was to begin a conversation on the gun measures this winter, and that he planned to put them before the General Assembly again next year.

So it remains to be seen whether McAuliffe will invest political capital behind his pledge to "push for universal background checks for everyone." At this point, we rate his promise "In the Works."

Our Sources

C-SPAN, Virginia gubernatorial debate, Sept. 25, 2013 (about 27:33 on tape).

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, "Go.v McAuliffe announces legislation to prevent gun violence in the Commonwealth," Dec. 15, 2014.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, "First State of the Commonwealth Address," Jan. 14, 2015.

Legislative Information System, HB 1604, HB 1671, HB 1548, HB 2085, assessed May 11, 2015.

WTOP Radio, "Ask the Governor," Jan. 28, 2015.

WRVA Radio, "Ask the Governor," Jan. 29, 2015.

News Channel 8, Terry McAuliffe interview, March 5, 2015.

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