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Background check bill dies

OLYMPIA – Democrats abandoned a bill to require wider background checks for gun purchases late Tuesday after disagreements over the proposals caused the House of Representatives to grind to a halt for a second afternoon Tuesday.

“It does not appear we are going to make it,” Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said Tuesday evening to announce that the proposal did not have the necessary 50 votes to pass the House beforeWednesday's 5 p.m. deadline. “It turns out it was just too big of a stretch.”

Pedersen, Gov. Jay Inslee and other supporters of the plan known as universal background checks had struggled since Monday to round up the necessary 50 votes needed to pass House Bill 1588. Meanwhile, the fate of dozens of other bills hung in the balance because they must also come to a vote before that 5 p.m. deadline. . . 

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Background checks are the most controversial gun-control bill of the session, with supporters saying they represent a sensible expansion of current law that already requires commercial gun sellers to check whether a buyer has a criminal record. HB 1588 would require similar checks for private sales. But opponents say it would do little to deter violent crime because criminals wouldn’t obey the law, they’d buy their guns illegally or steal them.

On Monday, Inslee made a personal visit to the House in an effort to pull a few representatives off the fence. But that didn’t generate the needed support; the bill continued to be pushed back on the schedule and the House spent hours at ease, not voting on anything.

On Tuesday, supporters predicted they would vote on HB 1588, and as many as nine amendments, after lunch. One of those amendments, which would automatically put the measure on the November ballot, was rumored to be the fix needed to snag the two or three needed votes.

But Pedersen said that while the referendum clause allowed them to pick up three yes votes, but prompted six previous supporters to say they would vote no. Some said they were leery of the precedent that could result in putting other controversial bills up to referenda, or a vote in a low-turnout, off-year election, while others were skeptical of polls that showed the issue is popular with voters. Based on e-mails and phone calls from constituents, Pedersen said, some believe gun-rights advocates are at least more intense in their opposition to the proposal.

But he rejected it was a mistake to tie up the House for hours on two successive days in an unsuccessful attempt to round up votes for the bill.

“This is a critical issue, one of the big issues of our time,” he said. Several other bills tied to gun violence did pass, he added. That included the only bill the House debated and passed after noon on Tuesday, which would require the subject of a protective order who is considered a violent threat to surrender firearms and other dangerous weapons as long as the order is in force.

“This is not a gun bill, this is a domestic violence bill,” Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, said. “If the order is lifted, they get their weapons back. If convicted of a violent crime, they lose their firearms rights.”

Goodman argued the bill conforms with federal law but Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, said the bill had technical problems that bring it in conflict with federal law: “We’ve got to get this right because these are constitutional rights.”

But Shea’s amendment to make a few technical changes failed, and the bill passed 61 to 37.

On Monday, the House passed bills that allowed victims of stalking or “cyberstalking” to receive protective orders from a court, made changes to the state’s involuntary treatment laws and tightened rules on commitments for people who are judged incompetent to stand trial.

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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