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Lawsuit challenges expanded background checks as Virginia defends handgun purchase cap

Lawsuit challenges expanded background checks as Virginia defends handgun purchase cap

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Gun right supporters wave flags during a gun rights rally near the Capitol in Richmond on Jan. 20.

Gun rights groups filed a lawsuit challenging a law scheduled to go into effect next week that will expand background checks for purchasing firearms.

The Virginia Citizens Defense League, other gun rights groups and gun owners are asking that the new law be halted from going into effect while the lawsuit is ongoing.

The new law, which would expand background checks to all gun sales, is slated to go into effect July 1 along with several other new gun control laws. The original proposal called for background checks to be applied to transfers, but that didn’t make it into the final legislation.

According to the lawsuit, two people in Lynchburg who want to purchase firearms from a third person in a private sale after July 1 claim they will be unable to do so under the new law. They say they are eligible to purchase firearms in a private sale, but they do not want to undergo a background check and don’t want to pay the fee to have one done. The lawsuit claims the new law violates the Virginia Constitution.

“By being forced to submit to a background check before being able to obtain a firearm, Virginians are required to get prior government approval before being permitted to exercise their enumerated rights,” the lawsuit states.

Col. Gary T. Settle, the superintendent of the Virginia State Police, is listed as the defendant because his agency would be primarily responsible for enforcing the new law. The lawsuit was filed Monday in Lynchburg Circuit Court.

Among the numerous complaints about the law, the lawsuit claims that it would restrict the ability of those ages 18 to 20 from purchasing handguns in Virginia because all private sales will have to be run through a federally licensed firearms dealer. Federal law says that individuals must be 21 to purchase a handgun from a licensed dealer.

Currently, those between 18 to 20 can buy a handgun through a private sale from another Virginia resident, but not from a dealer.

Virginia State Police confirmed its interpretation of the law would mean an increase in the handgun purchase age, the lawsuit states.

“In other words, the General Assembly and the Governor have surreptitiously raised the age to purchase a handgun in Virginia from 18 to 21,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit acknowledges the lack of Virginia court cases interpreting gun rights because the commonwealth has had — until next week — expansive gun rights.

Democrats took control of both chambers of the General Assembly this year and passed about a dozen gun control bills that Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, signed into law.

The Virginia Attorney General’s Office is also in the middle of defending the reinstatement of a cap on handgun purchases to one a month. People with concealed handgun permits would be excluded from this, which is intended to clamp down on the illegal flow of firearms to the northeast by straw purchases in Virginia.

Virginia had a one-handgun-a-month law from 1993 to 2012. A study three years after the law went into effect by the Virginia State Crime Commission concluded the law “had its intended effect of reducing Virginia’s status as a source state for gun trafficking.”

Valerie Trojan, a Goochland resident and member of gun rights groups, filed the lawsuit against Settle earlier this month challenging the law going back on the books.

“It strikes a reasonable balance between the rights of citizens to keep and bear arms and the Commonwealth’s legitimate interest in stemming the flow of handguns that can cause violence, bloodshed, and heartbreak in communities across Virginia and the East Coast when they are illegally sold, trafficked, stolen, or otherwise put into the hands of dangerous individuals,” the attorney general’s office wrote in its court filing opposing a temporary injunction.

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