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Gun Transfers Have Become a Sticking Point for Universal Background Checks

AP Photo/Steve Helber

A sweeping package of new restrictions on guns has been moving through the General Assembly. But, Democrats are divided about how universal background checks should be.

House Democrats want universal background checks, vetting everyone who gets a gun. Senate Democrats say that goes too far, and they want to create an exemption for when guns are simply transferred from one person to another. One of those is Senator Creigh Deeds of western Virginia.

“If a friend has a gun, leaves a gun at a hunting lodge, and I pick up the gun, the hunting lodge gives me the gun. That’s a transfer," Deeds explains. "I take the gun to my friend’s home and give it back to my friend. That’s a transfer."

“Shouldn’t those transfers have background checks," asks reporter Michael Pope.

Deeds responds, “Should they have background checks? I’m just doing a favor for my friend.”

Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran says the House version is better, and he sees the exemption for transfers as offering a dangerous loophole. 

“Stores offer discount deals, and they’ll say if you purchase A we’ll provide you B, which would be a firearm," Moran explains. "And so essentially we’re just trying to make sure that we’re keeping firearms out of the hands of individuals who should not possess them.”

Moran says he’s talking with Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, trying to persuade them that people who receive guns in a transfer should have background checks. So far, Senator Deeds says, that argument isn’t working in the Senate.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.