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Fri., April 19, 2013, midnight

Editorial: Gun control changes left to citizens by default

It looks as if Washingtonians who want to adopt reasonable gun control measures will have to bypass the Legislature and take the lead.

On Wednesday, the state Senate Majority Coalition refused a vote on a gun control bill related to domestic violence. House Bill 1840 would have allowed the removal of weapons in some instances where threats of violence trigger the issuance of a restraining order. The bill passed 61-37 in the House and was moved along in a 5-0 vote by the Senate Law & Justice Committee after some tweaking.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, who supports the bill, told the Seattle Times that some colleagues were opposed because weapons could be confiscated from people who had not been convicted of crimes. Apparently, the opponents wouldn’t mind waiting until it’s too late.

The New York Times wrote about this issue in March, highlighting the case of a Spokane woman who got a restraining order against her ex-husband after he threatened to jam his gun into her mouth and pull the trigger. Shortly after the man was ordered to stay away from his ex-wife, he approached her with a rifle and stuck the muzzle into her chest. She was able to furtively call 911, and the man was arrested.

Intimate partner homicides account for half the women killed in the United States each year. The most common weapon is a gun.

Unbowed, National Rifle Association lobbyists have fought against such bills in multiple legislatures, saying that unless there’s a felony conviction, the right to bear arms should be preserved. We think the right is called into question after people perform dangerous acts with a gun. Sifting through Washington state data, the Times found scores of examples of gun-related felonies – including five murders – that were committed after restraining orders were issued.

One measure the state Senate did pass – House Bill 1612 – calls for felons convicted of gun-related offenses to register with law enforcement. This lone bill represents the sum total of progress on gun control in the wake of the massacre of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn. Neither chamber passed a reasonable bill requiring background checks in private weapons transactions. Such checks are required at commercial outlets, and often flag people who should not own guns.

Lawmakers are clearly cowed by the gun lobby, so a grass-roots movement with considerable financial and political heft behind it has emerged. The newly formed Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility says it will launch a ballot initiative next year calling for background checks on private gun sales. The group says it will probably first petition the Legislature to pass the group’s background check measure. If lawmakers balk, then voters would be given a chance on the November ballot.

Our view is that it’s always best for deliberate bodies like the Legislature to shape our laws, but since so many lawmakers are running scared, a ballot initiative is a reasonable response.

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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