Efforts to widen Virginia’s background checks on people seeking to buy firearms underwhelm state Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City.
"We have a pretty comprehensive background check right now," Norment said during a recent debate with Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax.
"Right now, statistics in the commonwealth of Virginia show that only about 2 percent of the guns that are being bought or sold are outside of that universal background check," Norment added.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe wants a reluctant General Assembly to expand Virginia’s background check to all prospective gun buyers. His call came in the wake of the Aug. 26 fatal shootings near Smith Mountain Lake of WDBJ-TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward.
The law now requires all licensed gun dealers - those in the business of selling arms - to conduct a computerized check to determine whether a buyer has a disqualifying criminal record or mental health history. But casual sales and transfers between individuals are exempt.
We wondered whether Norment was right in saying only 2 percent of Virginia sales fall into that exempt category.
Jeff Ryer, a spokesman for the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus, told us Norment erred. "As best we can determine, there are no state-by-state statistics available for the source of a firearm used in a crime," Ryer wrote in an email.
Ryer is correct. Neither the Virginia State Police nor the Virginia Firearms Transaction Center "has any way of tracking the volume of private sales in Virginia," said Corinne Geller, communications manager for the state police.
We also should note that there are no conclusive national statistics about the percentage of guns that are sold without a background check.
Many gun control advocates - including McAuliffe and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. - have said it’s "estimated" that 40 percent of U.S. gun sales occur without background checks. But this claim is based on a small-sample survey of purchasers that’s almost 21 years old and counts some guns that were brought before a national background check law took effect. As we’ve reported, even the researchers of that study say they "don’t know" if their findings are relevant today. There’s been no updated national study.
A final note: The killer of Parker and Ward bought his gun legally and passed a background check, according to law-enforcement officials.
Norment said "only about 2 percent" of gun sales in Virginia are not subject to background checks. A spokesman says Norment erred, and we agree. No one knows how many guns are sold privately in Virginia or nationwide these days. Statistics aren’t available.
We rate Norment’s statement False.