RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Background checks to purchase firearms hit a record in Virginia the day after a gunman killed 26 people at a Connecticut elementary school.
The Virginia State Police processed 4,166 gun-purchase background checks on Saturday, media outlets reported Wednesday. That's up 42 percent from the same day in 2011 and the highest volume of transactions since the program began in 1989. Background checks on the day of the shootings totaled 2,770, up 26 percent from the same day in 2011.
Officials and gun advocates say gun purchases regularly spike during the holidays, but that talk of gun restrictions in the wake of Friday's mass shooting likely is fueling the increase. Authorities say Adam Lanza killed his mother at their home then went to Sandy Hook Elementary School where she worked and fatally shot 26 others, including 20 children, before killing himself.
Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, said the uptick in itself was not cause for concern for law enforcement.
"The concern for police is not how many people own guns," Schrad said. "It's how many people use guns illegally to kill or injure others."
State police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said the background checks required under Virginia law don't ask why an individual is buying a gun, so there's no way of knowing for sure what's behind the spike. But Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said the shooting and subsequent talk of tightening gun purchases absolutely was the cause.
"You ain't seen nothing yet," Van Cleave said.
There's no way to know how many guns were sold based on the state police background check numbers, which represent only the number of checks requested. Lawmakers repealed Virginia's one-gun-a-month restriction this year, so those who pass background checks can buy multiple firearms in one transaction. Also, private transactions do not require background checks.
Cars filled the parking lot at Atlas Tactical on Tuesday in Giles County not far from Virginia Tech, which still carries the burden of being home to the nation's worst mass shooting because of a student gunman's spree that left 32 others and himself dead in 2007.
The AR-15 semiautomatic rifle was particularly popular, with store owner Brooke Stallings selling three of the military-style rifles on Tuesday alone.
Stallings said many buyers were talking about the shootings and the possibility of Congress cracking down on weapons like the AR-15 or the Bushmaster rifle like Lanza used. It's not the guns that are the problem, Stallings argued, adding that many people use the rifles for hunting or competitive target shooting.
"I don't think they are the cause," Stallings said. "I don't think taking them away will do any good."
The answer, she said, was in allowing law-abiding citizens the same or even easier access to weapons.
The National District Attorneys Association countered Tuesday, calling on Congress to enact stricter laws regulating assault weapons.
"The Second Amendment has never been designed as a dodge for psychopaths to destroy our loved ones," the association said in a release that noted "no hunter and no sportsman need an assault weapon to exercise their Constitutional rights."
The debate comes as background checks already were increasing in Virginia this year. From January through the end of November, state police say background checks were up 22 percent over the same period in 2011, with more than 357,000 conducted during the first 11 months of this year.
Information from: The Free Lance-Star, http://www.fredericksburg.com/
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