By Matthew A. Ward
PORTSMOUTH, Va (Reuters) - Virginia lawmakers on Monday moved toward lifting a 19-year-old law limiting handgun purchases to one per month, despite a recent history of campus shootings and critics' concerns that the state will become a "gunrunners' paradise."
State senators voted 21-19 to amend Virginia law to eliminate the prohibition that was enacted in 1993 to curb gun smuggling operations.
Democratic Senator David Marsden said the 1993 law helped get weapons used in crimes off the streets in neighboring states.
"We were creating a nightmare for New York," he said. "Kids who got involved in gun crime, they didn't go out and find a gun, the guns found them."
Democratic Senator Janet Howell said the reversal on Monday would effectively change the state slogan from "Virginia is for lovers" to "Virginia, gunrunners' paradise."
But Republican Senator Charles Carrico Sr said repealing the law would bring Virginia into line with the majority of states. California, Maryland and New Jersey are the only others with handgun limits, he said.
Various gun rights measures are moving through the General Assembly after Republicans gained seats in 2011 state election. Proposed legislation includes allowing full-time public college faculty members with concealed handgun permits to carry concealed handguns on campus.
Last week, the Senate voted to remove localities' rights to require fingerprints for concealed handgun permits, and the House of Delegates passed its own version of the one-a-month limit on handgun purchases.
A spokesman for Republican Governor Bob McDonnell told Reuters the governor would sign the legislation repealing the handgun limit if it passed the entire General Assembly.
Not everything is moving in the gun lobby's direction. A House subcommittee halted legislation allowing state correctional officers to carry concealed handguns without a permit to do so.
Measures to exempt shotgun and rifle purchases from state background checks and prohibit colleges and other "administrative bodies" from enacting gun laws without statutory authority were deferred until 2013.
Virginia Center for Public Safety President Andrew Goddard told Reuters the one-a-month handgun purchase limit was Virginia's best defense against gun crime.
Goddard's son was among the 32 people killed in the April 2007 shooting rampage by a mentally-deranged student at Virginia Tech.
Last December, police officer Deriek Crouse, 39, was shot dead at Virginia Tech before his killer, Ross Truett Ashley, fatally turned the handgun on himself.
"We have an extraordinary number of people getting killed and injured from guns, but for some reason it doesn't seem to strike a chord (with legislators)," Goddard said.
Lori Haas, a board member from the same group, said repealing the 1993 law "makes no sense."
"The Senate today pandered to special interest groups and has just opened the door to begin illegal gun trafficking again in Virginia," Haas said.
(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing By Colleen Jenkins)