OLYMPIA – Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords urged Washington legislators to “be bold, be courageous” and require wider background checks on gun sales. Gun rights advocates urged lawmakers to protect constitutional rights and pass a competing initiative.
But even before testimony began in a packed hearing room Tuesday, it was clear the Legislature is likely to do neither.
Initiative 594, which would subject most Washington gun sales to the kind of background checks now required when buying from a dealer, and Initiative 591, which would expand background checks in the state only if there’s a new federal standard, aren’t likely to pass the Legislature. They’re headed for the fall ballot instead, House Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, indicated.
“This is the beginning of a dialogue we’ll be having at least until November,” Jinkins said. “Let’s keep it civil.”
And for the most part, it was. Giffords, who was severely wounded in 2011 in a rampage that killed six during a congressional district meeting, left much of the talking to husband Mark Kelly, a former astronaut who stressed that they were both gun owners and believe all other “law-abiding citizens” have that right.
One way to keep guns out of the hands of criminals is with I-594, he said: “The law will not be perfect … It will give law enforcement a valuable tool.”
Steve Judy of the National Rifle Association said the hearts of NRA members go out to Giffords and Cheryl Stumbo, the victim of a mass shooting in Seattle who testified with her. But both are being “exploited to push an extreme gun control agenda” because I-594 wouldn’t have helped prevent either tragedy.
I-594 won’t stop the black market in guns, Judy said, but it will create a massive government database of lawful gun owners. “It’s not simple. It’s complicated government excess,” Judy said.
Although the arguments for and against wider background checks didn’t break any new ground, the Spokane area was well-represented in the Olympia hearing.
Robin Ball, owner of Sharp Shooting Indoor Range and Gun Shop and a former Spokane County Republican chairwoman, said I-594 will create a complicated system of verifying private purchases for dealers.
Ball also questioned prosecutors’ interest in enforcing current laws. While she’s had only a few purchasers fail background checks, she’s never had federal law enforcement call to check up on those failed buyers.
The Rev. James Waggoner, Episcopal bishop of Spokane, was among clergy from around the state supporting I-594. It’s not a radical step, he said, and it will save lives. “It is time to stop the senseless gun deaths,” he said.
Closing out testimony were Gonzaga University students Erik Fagan and Daniel McIntosh, who drew national attention when they chased a potential intruder away from their university-owned apartment with a 10 mm Glock pistol, then faced sanctions for violating GU policy on firearms. McIntosh said he was able to protect himself and Fagan with a gun that was a graduation gift from his grandfather, which he said wouldn’t be allowed under I-594.
“I prefer a society where I am able to protect myself,” McIntosh said.
But Christian Sinderman, a spokesman for I-594, said the proposal would make no difference in that situation. Gifts between immediate family members are specifically excluded, he said, and McIntosh could also buy the gun or receive it as a gift from anyone else unless he failed a background check.