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Virginia gun sales hot as pistol, but is it economy or new law?

Gun sales are up in Virginia, but police say it's because the economy is better _ not because people are trying to beat a new law that limits them to buying one handgun a month.

Through mid-June, more than 79,000 gun sales were reported to state police, compared with 66,000 for the same period last year.

"As more people work, there's more money to spend. People buy items outside necessities, such as firearms," said Virginia State Police Lt. Robert L. Vass, who oversees gun-sales records.

Gov. L. Douglas Wilder said the law, which takes effect July 1, will end Virginia's reputation as "the gunrunning capital of America."

The measure passed the General Assembly despite fierce lobbying by the NRA.

Gun-control lobbyists hail it as an important step toward curbing gun crime in Virginia and elsewhere.

Virginia already required a computerized background check of gun buyers, but there were no waiting periods for residents and no limits on how many guns one person can buy.

Police said drug dealers from New York, Washington, D.C., and other Northeast cities recruited Virginians without criminal records to buy guns for them in exchange for drugs.

The new law bars people from buying more than one handgun a month unless they get permission from state police. Violations would be a misdemeanor.

Officials concede a person might be able to buy more than one handgun a month through legal private sales. While licensed gun dealers can check state police computers to see whether a buyer bought a handgun within the past 30 days, private gun owners do not have access to the files.

"I don't think it's going to affect crime in Virginia. It may affect crime in New York and D.C.," said Republican state Delegate Robert F. McDonnell, who was part of a bipartisan coalition that supported the law. "A family of four can still buy 48 guns a year so it's still a lot of guns."