RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia's background check system has prevented 54,260 people, including more than 16,000 felons, from buying guns since it began in 1989.
The total number of transactions denied from 1989 to 2012 also includes drug abusers, the mentally ill and domestic assault offenders, Virginia State Police records show.
During the same period, state police made 12,956 arrests related to the sale or attempted sale of firearms as a result of denied firearm transactions of all types, conducted between federally licensed firearm dealers and customers at gun stores, gun shows and other retail sales.
"It's positive to see that the Virginia State Police are enforcing the laws on the books," said Thomas R. Baker, a criminologist and an assistant professor of criminal justice studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. "The fact that they actively pursue individuals who try to purchase a gun illegally means the background check system helps to not only keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them, but also helps identify and punish individuals trying to illegally obtain guns."
"I think this strengthens the argument that all gun transactions should involve a background check of the purchaser," Baker told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
In January, state police arrested seven people for trying to illegally buy guns at a gun show in Henrico County. Five were felons, one was under felony indictment and one had a mental health prohibition against buying a gun. Police say all seven lied on firearm transaction forms.
Transaction denials involving mental health tripled between 2007 and 2012, from 109 to 340, as Virginia added more mental health records into the background check system.
"The increase in the denials as a result of mental illness could similarly point to the increased effectiveness of the (National Instant Criminal Background System) when more information is shared between the states and the federal government," Baker said. "The laws requiring state reporting of information on individual mental health issues following the tragedy at Virginia Tech seems to have been effective given the steady increase in denials due to mental illness."
The number of transaction denials involving felons trying to buy guns increased from 420 to 609 during the same period.
Nationally, about 2.1 million gun transactions have been denied through background checks from the signing of the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act in 1993 through 2010, the last reporting year available, federal statistics show.
A recent Bureau of Justice Statistics report ranked Virginia first among nine states that reported making arrests for one or more years from 2000 to 2010. Virginia reported 8,437 arrests during that period, followed by Pennsylvania with 3,172.
A state trooper is sent to a gun dealer's location when a disqualifying issue is found with a background check electronically submitted by the dealer to the Virginia Firearms Transaction Center.
State police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said the gun dealer is only notified that the purchaser is ineligible or prohibited from buying a firearm. State law prohibits the release of an individual's criminal history to the general public.