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U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D. VA) has high rankings from the NRA and received a grade A from them for his support of the 2nd Amendment.  But Warner has seen the light ever since the Sandy Hook Shootings and has come out in support of gun control.  The major part of President Obama's gun control legislation is the call for universal background checks:

But the assault weapons ban is not even the centerpiece of Obama’s proposal. Universal background checks are, and if Obama gets that it will be a major achievement in its own right. Given that huge majorities — including of Republicans and gun owners — favor universal background checks, you’d think Dems up for reelection could support them. Right?

The picture is mixed. Thus far, only two Dems up for reelection next year are supportive of background checks, while the others either won’t say yet or have not responded to my questions. Here is the state of play, based on outreach to their offices:

* Senator Mark Warner of Virginia: He is supportive. Warner spokesman Kevin Hall tells me: “Senator Warner is supportive of the effort to broaden the background check system. But he wants to make sure it’s done in a reasonable and effective way.” That’s a significant step forward. - Washington Post, 1/22/13
Warner and his colleague, Senator Tim Kaine (D. VA), suggest that their colleagues look at Virginia as a model for an effective background check system:

"There are many aspects of the Virginia background check system that are superb," Sen. Tim Kaine said Friday after a joint event with Sen. Mark R. Warner in Northern Virginia. "We are the best state in the country in introducing mental health adjudications into the national database. Nineteen states don't put any mental health adjudications into the national database, and some states just do a few here and there, but Virginia's the best state in the country in doing that, so there are aspects of the way we do the background check system in Virginia that really are a national model."
"As somebody who's had solid ratings from the NRA and somebody who's a strong Second Amendment supporter, I know the status quo is not enough, and I do think that around background checks that we're going to get something done, and I want to be a part of that effort," Mr. Warner said.

He added that there should be exemptions if, for example, firearms are exchanged between family members or someone wants to lend his friend a gun at a range for skeet shooting.

"How you look at the vast amount of purchases that are made within the system right now without any appropriate checks, how we make sure that those folks — the 19 states who don't even report those folks who have been involuntarily committed, their mental health records at least getting into the database — these are areas where reasonable people ought to agree and we can at least take a major first step," he said. - Washington Times, 2/8/13

Here's some background info on Virginia's background check system:

Virginia’s approach to firearms records checks does not infringe on an individual’s ability to purchase or possess a firearm, while those individuals who are prohibited by State or Federal law are denied legal access to firearms.

The Virginia Department of State Police developed and administers the Virginia Firearms Transaction Program© (VFTP). This program became operational on November 1, 1989, and provides for a timely, point-of-sale, approval or disapproval decision regarding the sale or transfer of all firearms (except antiques) based upon the results of a criminal history record information (CHRI) check concerning the prospective purchaser pursuant to §18.2-308.2:2 of the Code of Virginia.

This program was the first of its type in the nation. Virginia was able to implement this program because the Central Criminal Records Exchange (CCRE) maintained by the Virginia State Police is one of the most complete records repositories in the nation and provides the database for the VFTP.  Virginia’s program was expanded to include the requirements of the federal National Instant Background System (NICS) on November 30, 1998,

The VFTP authorizes properly licensed and registered firearms dealers to request criminal history record information (CHRI) checks on prospective purchasers via easy Internet access (VCheck) to the State Police firearms transaction system.  VCheck is available between the hours of 8 AM and 10 PM, seven days a week, and including holidays, except December 25. An 800-telephone line is utilized as an alternate method of contacting the FTC should the dealer lose Internet connection or experience problems with his or her computer.

Firearms dealers must complete form SP-69 to register with the VFTP. This form can be viewed, downloaded and/or printed by visiting the Virginia State Police Forms page.

Virginia Code §18.2-308.2:3  requires a criminal history background check be performed for employees of a gun dealer to transfer firearms, whether full-time, part-time, permanent, temporary, paid or unpaid.  Any person who sells firearms at a licensed dealership must submit to a national and state criminal history records check by the Department of State Police and Federal Bureau of Investigation. Firearm sellers must complete form SP-69A and submit a completed fingerprint card to the Firearms Transaction Center. SP-69A forms and fingerprint cards may be obtained by calling the Firearms Transaction Center (FTC) Help Desk at (804) 674-2292.  In lieu of submitting fingerprints, any dealer holding a valid federal firearms license (FFL) issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) may submit a sworn and notarized affidavit to the Department of State Police on form SP-69B stating that the dealer has been subjected to a record check prior to the issuance and that the FFL was issued by the ATF. The affidavit may also contain the names of any employees that have been subjected to a record check and approved by the ATF. An SP-69B form may be obtained by calling the FTC Help Desk. This exemption shall apply regardless of whether the FFL was issued in the name of the dealer or in the name of the business.

The purchaser’s name and certain personal descriptive data are immediately entered into a computer system at the dealer location or while the dealer remains on the telephone with the FTC. The design of this program eliminates traditional waiting periods by electronically accessing criminal records and "wanted" databases at the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and the Virginia Criminal Records Exchange (CCRE) and provides an instantaneous approval or delay determination to the firearms dealer concerning the firearms sale or transfer.   Please refer to the Frequently Asked Questions for more information on firearms purchase applications placed in a status of delay.

National and state databases are accessed simultaneously at the time of transaction. Four are maintained by the Virginia Department of State Police, accessible by the Virginia Criminal Information Network (VCIN): Virginia’s wanted and missing persons files and protective orders, Virginia’s criminal history record files, and Virginia’s database of adjudications of legal incompetence and incapacity, involuntary commitments to mental institutions for inpatient or outpatient treatment.

The fifth database accessed during this check is the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) which searches the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) consisting of the Wanted Persons File, Protection Order File, Interstate Identification Index (III), Deported Felons File, US Secret Service Protective File, Foreign Fugitive File, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms’ Violent Felon File, and NICS indexes: Illegal/Unlawful Aliens File, Mental Defectives/Commitments File, Dishonorable Discharges, Citizenship Renunciants, Controlled Substance Abuse File and Denied Persons File.

If an identification is not made in one or more of these files, the computer responds "APPROVED" and a unique computer-generated approval number is provided to the firearms dealer for the transaction. The firearm may be transferred upon the dealer's receipt of the approval number.  If an identification is made, the computer responds "DELAYED" and review of the information/record is required by the State Police Firearms Transaction Center to determine probable identification and lawful eligibility of the prospective firearms purchaser.  The firearms dealer is notified immediately upon a final determination of eligibility.

A prospective firearms purchaser must provide written consent permitting the firearms dealer to initiate a CHRI check to determine if the purchaser is eligible to purchase or possess a firearm. It is unlawful for any person to willfully and intentionally make a false statement on the required consent form. Firearms dealers are required by law to collect a fee of $2.00 from Virginia residents for every transaction which requires a criminal history record information (CHRI) check and a fee of $5.00 from non-Virginia residents. These fees are sent to the State Police for transmittal to the General Funds of the Commonwealth to assist in the cost of conducting the record checks.

At no time is criminal history information released to the firearms dealer or any other individual contacting the Firearms Transaction Center by telephone.

You can read more details about the background check system in the link provided at the top.  Sounds like a pretty detailed and well constructed plan.  But what about those who are mentally unfit to attain a gun, like the Virginia Tech killer?  They have that covered:

In the wake of Virginia Tech, Sen. Tim Kaine, then governor of the state, signed an executive order to close a loophole that had allowed people adjudicated mentally ill, such as gunman Seung-Hui Cho, to purchase firearms.

“Nineteen states don’t put any mental health adjudications into the national database, and some states just do a few here and there,” Mr. Kaine said. “But Virginia is the best state in the country in doing that, so there are aspects of the way we do the background check system in Virginia that really are a national model.”

Democratic Sen. Mark R. Warner, who has an A rating from the National Rifle Association, predicted broad bipartisan support for background checks on virtually all gun buyers while providing exemptions for transactions between family members or friends at a shooting range, for example.

“How you look at the vast amount of purchases that are made within the system right now without any appropriate checks, the 19 states who don’t even report those folks who have been involuntarily committed, their mental health records at least getting into the database — these are areas where reasonable people ought to agree and we can at least take a major first step,” he said. - Washington Times, 2/10/13

Now did Kaine's executive decision as governor help strengthen the background check system in place?  Well lets look at the decline of gun violence since the Virginia Tech shooting:

Gun-related violent crime in Virginia has dropped steadily over the past six years as the sale of firearms has soared to a new record, according to an analysis of state crime data with state records of gun sales.

The total number of firearms purchased in Virginia increased 73 percent from 2006 to 2011. When state population increases are factored in, gun purchases per 100,000 Virginians rose 63 percent.

But the total number of gun-related violent crimes fell 24 percent over that period, and when adjusted for population, gun-related offenses dropped more than 27 percent, from 79 crimes per 100,000 in 2006 to 57 crimes in 2011.

The estimated number of gun purchases based on requested background checks rose from 243,251 in 2006 to a record-breaking 420,829 sales last year, according to gun-dealer transaction data compiled by state police through background checks. Over that same period, the total number of violent crimes in Virginia dropped from 23,431 offenses in 2006 to 18,196 in 2011.

The total gun purchases cover all types of firearms, including pistols, revolvers, shotguns and rifles. Similarly, total gun-related crime includes offenses committed with all types of guns, including firearms whose type was unknown. - Richmond Times-Dispatch, 11/23/13

Interesting.  Virginia has a pretty strict background check system that has helped decrease gun violence in the state yet hand gun sales have gone up.  I don't think it's so much a "more guns, less violence" theory but more one that promotes gun ownership but keeps track of all those who purchase guns.  Now don't get me wrong, I'm still in favor of banning assault weapons but with Virginia's model, no wonder background checks are a key goal of the Obama Administration.  When you're serious about keeping tabs on all those who purchase guns, it motivates gun owners to keep their guns in safe places so that they can't be stolen from anyone and have the crime trace back to them.  So Virginia has successfully made the argument that a smart, effective background check system can decrease violence.  So what have guys like Wayne LaPierre and the NRA been lobbying Governor Bob McDonnell (R. VA) to do away with their system?
Under the current process in Virginia, potential gun buyers are run through state and federal checks. The scans look for records that would prohibit a purchase - things such as a criminal history, residency status in the country, drug offenses, a dishonorable military discharge, and mental health adjudications.

While there is much overlap between the two programs, state police officials have cautioned that current gun restrictions unique to Virginia might not block a sale if the federal system were the only screening method in place.

That's one reason gun control advocates oppose efforts to undo the Virginia program.

Other differences between the state and federal systems involve how they view mental health treatment. Both bar those who have been involuntarily committed from purchasing guns.

Virginia law also specifies that someone evaluated under a temporary detention order who then enters voluntary treatment would be barred from purchasing a weapon - a nod to Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho's history with the mental health system.

In addition, the federal system doesn't limit handgun purchases to one a month, as Virginia law does. - The Virginian-Pilot, 1/2/12

I can't say if a ban on assault weapons will happen this year but universal background checks could very well become a reality:

A coalition of House Republicans is willing to thwart the National Rifle Association’s opposition to broadening background checks for U.S. gun purchases. That may be President Barack Obama’s best chance for advancing tougher gun regulations this year.

Representatives Patrick Meehan and Michael Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania are among Republicans expressing openness to expanding the background-check system, including mandatory screening of buyers at gun shows. “We need to consider any option that will keep people safe,” Fitzpatrick said in an interview.

“I’m interested in looking at closing the gun-show loophole,” Meehan said in an interview. “But I’m also going to be watching where this goes, particularly in the Senate and how much real effort will be put” forth, he said.

The loose alliance of Republicans, largely from urban districts in the Northeast and states including Virginia that have been the sites of mass shootings in the past several years, is also focused on regulations involving mental-health reporting of firearms buyers and gun trafficking as first steps in combating gun violence.

Expansion of background checks for gun purchasers is gaining bipartisan support in Congress and among the public while restrictions on weapons may confront stiffer opposition in Congress. A Quinnipiac University poll released Feb. 7 found more than 9 in 10 Americans support universal background checks. - Bloomberg, 2/11/13

Background checks are highly popular because they're smart policies that can help decrease gun crimes:
“You know, existing laws say if you’re a felon, if you’re a fugitive from justice, if you’ve been adjudicated mentally ill and dangerous, domestic violence abuser under protective order, you cannot purchase a weapon,” Mr. Kaine said. “The only way to enforce that is to have [a] background check, so we either want to enforce those laws or we don’t. Background checks help enforce those laws, and that’s why they’re so popular.” - Washington Times, 2/10/13
Even Eric Cantor advocates using Virginia as a model for background checks:
"I think that we can take a lot of lessons from what Virginia did and put it in place at the federal level, because there are a lot of states that aren't doing what Virginia is doing to try and beef up the database for the background checks to make sure that we actually can do something that does have a chance at reducing the likelihood and hopefully eliminating it from happening again," the House of Representatives' No. 2 Republican said. - Washington Times, 2/8/13
Background checks have proven to help decrease interstate trafficking:
Interstate gun trafficking was 48 percent lower where private handgun sales require a background check, it found.

Before the first major U.S. school mass shooting in 1999 at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, Robyn Anderson, a friend of shooters Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, bought the shotguns from unlicensed sellers at a 1998 gun show. The state subsequently ended the gun show exception there.

According to Rhonda Fields, a Democratic representative in Colorado whose son was murdered with a gun in 2005, the results of the expanded background checks law passed in November 2000 have been dramatic.

Colorado was the 17th-largest source of guns found at crime scenes in other states. Within a year of the new law, it fell to 27th and by 2009 it ranked 32nd, Fields said last week at a news conference in Denver. “That’s real results,” she said.

Meanwhile, victims’ advocates and newly formed outside spending groups are putting pressure on Congress to pass gun control measures including expanded background checks.  - Bloomberg, 2/11/13

We'll see if some of these Republicans will keep their word on supporting background checks.  Background checks could certainly get the backing of red state Democrats like Warner and Senator Tim Johnson (D. SD) who are up for re-election in 2014.  Stay tuned.

Originally posted to pdc on Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 10:47 PM PST.

Also republished by Virginia Kos.


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