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Editorial: Legislature bends to will of gun lobby, not public’s

The National Rifle Association’s leader has flip-flopped on background checks for private gun purchases, calling them “reasonable” in 1999 and “a nightmare” now. That’s a reflection of how far the organization’s leadership has drifted from the mainstream when it comes to gun control.

But what’s the excuse for lawmakers in Olympia, who couldn’t get a background check bill through the House or Senate despite popular support?

The House bill, co-sponsored by Spokane Reps. Timm Ormsby and Marcus Riccelli, would’ve required a prospective buyer from a private party to undergo the same background check a purchaser experiences when buying from a store. The goal is to flag people with criminal or mental health histories.

National polls show that 90 percent of Americans support such background checks. So do three-quarters of NRA members, according to a survey conducted in January by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. But, in Olympia, lawmakers were unwilling to face down the gun lobby.

On Tuesday night, the Senate Law & Justice Committee adopted two lesser measures, just beating Wednesday’s deadline for nonbudget bills. House Bill 1612 would set up a database of people who use weapons while committing felonies. Those found guilty by reason of insanity would also have to provide information such as name, address and physical description. The Washington State Patrol would maintain the data. House Bill 1840 would require those with restraining orders against them to surrender their guns.

Both measures have passed the House. The Senate amended the restraining order bill by adding a step in which a judge would determine whether the subject posed a threat.

The restraining order issue was highlighted recently in a New York Times article, which featured a Spokane woman who got a restraining order against her ex-husband after he shoved a pistol into her mouth. Under current law, he didn’t have to surrender his weapon. Twelve hours after a judge issued the order, the man showed up and terrorized his ex-wife again with a gun. Fortunately, he was arrested before anyone was hurt.

In other states, the man’s gun would’ve been confiscated when he was hit with the restraining order.

Both bills are reasonable, but as the only measures to survive, they represent a weak response to the slaughter of children at the elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and other mass shootings in Colorado, Arizona and Virginia.

The harsh political reality is that the gun lobby is always on the job while the general public’s passion dissipates with time.

Rep. Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens, is a police officer with a top NRA rating who tried to reach out to the gun lobby to work with him on a background check bill. The organization ignored that civil gesture and instead alerted his constituents with hyperbolic attacks.

Legislators will continue to blink on gun issues unless the public stays engaged and insists on action. So, go ahead, tell them to make your day.


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