AP: Bill calls for background checks for renting guns at ranges
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Last July, five days apart, two young men walked into the Green Top Shooting Range in Hanover, Virginia, and fatally shot themselves. Both were in their 20s and had a history of mental health issues, but neither man was subjected to a background check before he was allowed to rent a gun and turn the weapon on himself.
State lawmakers are now considering legislation that would require a state background check for anyone who wants to rent a gun. Currently, neither federal nor state law requires background checks for gun rentals at shooting ranges. The legislation is one of about a half-dozen gun-control bills now making their way through the General Assembly.
Democratic Sen. Creigh Deeds, the lead sponsor of the bill, said the number of suicides at U.S. shooting ranges is relatively low, an average of about 35 per year, according to a Harvard study published in 2020. But Deeds said doing background checks before someone is allowed to rent a gun could save lives.
“Thirty-five people died. That’s 35 families that struggled with that. I don’t really care if it’s one family or 100 families. If we can prevent people from taking their lives, then that’s what we should do,” Deeds said.
Deeds said neither man would have been able to purchase a gun because a background check required for gun sales would have shown histories of mental health problems. Under Virginia law, it is illegal for people who have been involuntarily admitted to psychiatric institutions to purchase or possess firearms.
When 21-year-old Jon-Christian Carroll went to the Green Top Shooting Range on July 8, he was able to rent a rifle without a background check. The same was true on July 13, when 27-year-old Arron Prude went to the shooting range.
“Over the course of five minutes, my son turned an assault rifle on himself four times. No one at the facility noticed,” Carroll’s father, Bradley Carroll, testified during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday.
Carroll said in an interview that his son had been committed to mental health facilities three times during the previous year due to erratic behavior and paranoia. He said he and his wife, Amy, did everything they could to help him, including asking law enforcement to intervene and taking out an emergency custody order to take away a gun he was able to buy in 2019.
“At that point, we thought he will never be able to (again) buy a gun to commit suicide; we can focus on his treatment,” Bradley Carroll said.
About six months later, he went to the shooting range, rented a gun and shot himself.
Opponents say the legislation would not be effective and would require additional funding for state police to conduct background checks for gun rentals.
“Its best left to ranges and Virginia State Police to come up with in-house policies to regulate this,” said D.J. Spiker, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. “This bill would not be a preventative measure.”
Because federal law does not require background checks for gun rentals, the bill would be limited to records available in Virginia, including criminal histories and the state’s database of adjudications of legal incompetence and incapacity, and involuntary commitments to mental health institutions for inpatient or outpatient treatment.
But Deeds said the time it takes to complete the background check could end up creating a moment of uncertainty for someone contemplating suicide.
“My intent here — as much as requiring a background check for the renting of a firearm — is to try to impede someone’s decision to end their lives. The research suggests that anything you do to slow that plan down gives you a better chance of saving that person’s life,” he said.
Deeds, whose 24-year-old son died by suicide in 2013 after struggling with bipolar disorder, has been a dogged advocate for reforming the state’s mental health care system.
The Judiciary Committee has approved the bill and sent it to the Finance Committee.
On Wednesday, the House of Delegates approved a bill that calls for banning so-called “ghost” guns, unserialized and untraceable homemade guns and plastic guns made with 3D printers.
Republican Del. Michael Webert spoke against the measure, saying it would do nothing to stop gun violence but would punish skilled hobbyists.
“This bill takes thousands of Virginians who have a hobby and then turns them into felons,” he said.
The House approved the legislation by a vote of 52-48.