FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 5, 2018
Contact: Jason Stanford, 804-698-1049, DelALopez@house.virginia.gov
House Republicans Oppose Bills to Close “Charleston Loophole” and Ban Gun Use by Toddlers
RICHMOND – Two bills designed to combat Virginia’s gun violence epidemic were defeated on party-line votes in a Militia, Police, and Public Safety subcommittee in the House of Delegates. The bills were HB 949, which works toward closing the infamous “Charleston Loophole” for Virginia gun purchases, and HB 950, which bans allowing gun use by children under the age of five. The sponsor of the bills, Delegate Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington), was dismayed that the subcommittee chose to leave these dangerous loopholes in the law.
“These bills are an easy way to reduce the misuse of dangerous firearms. With the hundreds of Virginians killed by guns last year, I am extremely disappointed that Republicans continue refusing to allow these important reform measures to move forward through the General Assembly,” said Delegate Lopez.
HB 949 extended the length of time Virginia State Police would have to conduct background checks on gun sales before allowing the sale to take place by default. Under current Virginia law, the State Police have only until the end of the next business day to complete a background check on a commercial gun sale. If the background check cannot be completed by that time, the sale can proceed by default. HB 949 would give State Police up to five business days to complete a background check before these sales can proceed.
According to the FBI, in 2016, over 4,100 gun sales were allowed to proceed under this loophole to buyers who were later discovered to be prohibited from purchasing firearms under federal or state law. Many of these buyers had prior convictions for domestic violence, drug trafficking, or murder. This loophole is referred to as the “Charleston Loophole” because it allowed Dylann Roof, the perpetrator of the 2015 massacre at a black church in Charleston, to purchase the weapon used in his rampage even though he had a prior conviction for drug possession, which should have blocked him from being able to buy the gun.
“Allowing a gun purchase to proceed after just one business day does not give the State Police enough time to conduct a thorough and necessary background check on each buyer. As a result, these weapons are ending up in the hands of dangerous criminals,” added Lopez. The law even allows gun purchases to take place on the spot if State Police indicate that the background check can’t be completed within the time required. “Our commonwealth was devastated by the massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007. These mass shootings have been taking place all over the country with increased frequency and deadliness. We have to address these broken laws before the next horrific shooting takes place.”
HB 950 would make it a Class 1 misdemeanor to knowingly allow a child under the age of five to use a firearm or pneumatic weapon.
“Children at 3 or 4 years of age are just learning to read, tell time, name colors, and communicate effectively. Children at that age are not responsible enough to hold and use a firearm without grave danger to themselves or to the people around them,” said Lopez. “There is a terrible risk involved in allowing a child to use such a deadly weapon and our law should reflect our understanding of that risk, rather than condoning it by omission.”
Every Democrat on the subcommittee—Delegates Bell and Tyler—voted in favor of the bills.