By Gary Robertson
RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) - Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, on Monday called to reinstate restrictions on the purchase of handguns, in a move that opponents described as unlikely to succeed with a Republican-dominated legislature.
McAuliffe asked lawmakers to reinstate a law allowing buyers to purchase only one handgun a month, which had been repealed during his Republican predecessor's administration. He also wants to require private vendors at gun shows to run background checks on all prospective buyers.
"At gun shows, private vendors are not required to conduct criminal background checks, creating an easy avenue for criminals to illegally gain access to guns," McAuliffe said. His call came the day after the second anniversary of a gunman's rampage in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 26 elementary school students and educators.
McAuliffe also aims to revoke concealed weapons permits for parents who are delinquent on child support payments and prohibit the possession of firearms for misdemeanor domestic violence offenders.
The head of a Virginia gun-rights group called the move political payback to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an ardent gun-control activist who was a major donor to McAuliffe's 2013 gubernatorial campaign.
"I think this is all politically motivated," said Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun rights group. "If anything, Virginia is more pro-gun than it was last year."
The National Rifle Association, meanwhile, has said it financed $500,000 in ads on television and online striking out at McAuliffe’s views on firearms.
In 2013, gun sales in Virginia set a new high with nearly 480,000 transactions, according to state police statistics on the number of mandatory criminal background checks of gun purchasers.
Gun sales grew 10.8 percent over the previous record set just a year earlier.
Overall sales could be even higher, because state police don't track private firearm transactions. Final sales numbers for 2014 aren't in yet.
Thomas Baker, a criminologist and an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, said McAuliffe’s gun control proposals could spur even more gun sales.
“Usually, when new policies restricting firearm purchases are proposed, we see a rise in firearm sales,” Baker said
(Editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler)