Barring some miracle in Olympia Wednesday, the state’s so-called “universal background check” bill – House Bill 1588 – is dead and the specter is now rising that the Seattle-based Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility (WAGR) will mount an effort to put a gun control initiative on the ballot this fall.
The bill that appears to have failed – and it may get a second life Wednesday morning as sources in Olympia tell Examiner there will be an effort to revive the measure before tonight’s deadline – was not the measure that Bellevue-based gun rights advocate Alan Gottlieb had initially offered to support. His measure would have abolished the state pistol registry, exempted concealed pistol license holders and transactions between family members. There would be no record keeping.
While the revised measure apparently met some of those conditions, gone was the pistol registry tenet and new was a concession to a law enforcement lobbying group to exempt police from the background check. Also, there was an effort to make this bill a referendum to the voters, as this column reported, but apparently that didn’t get enough traction.
Tuesday, Gottlieb told an Associated Press reporter via e-mail – a comment that has not appeared in the story as picked up by the Seattle P-I.com – that, “This is a badly flawed bill and should not be a referendum. If the House sponsors included my changes to HB 1588 and killed the state gun registry it would have had enough votes to pass and not need to be a ballot initiative.”
As reported by the Seattle Times, “The universal background-check proposal would end a discrepancy in state law that exempts private residents from conducting a background check before selling a gun.”
But veteran gun rights lobbyist Joe Waldron, legislative director for the Bellevue-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said this via e-mail Wednesday morning: “End a discrepancy? What discrepancy? Nothing like the Times to put their editorial spin on the issue, in a ‘news’ article. Maybe they should come right out and suggest repealing the ‘discrepancy’ in the Bill of Rights – the Second Amendment.”
Under existing federal law, private transactions are legal without background checks.
The apparent failure of this bill made national news, at least via CBS and the Drudge Report, because its timing coincided with Tuesday’s passage of a similar federal background check expansion bill by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 10-8 strict party-line vote.
Some people suggest that if the federal measure becomes law, there would be no reason to have a state-level law, because it would be superseded by the federal statute.
What’s next for Evergreen State gun owners? If WAGR launches an initiative effort, and gets enough signatures to put a measure on the ballot, Washington gun owners are in for a bare knuckles political fight such as they haven’t seen since 1997, when they faced Initiative 676. Anti-gunners learned a lot from that campaign, and they will no doubt benefit from the lessons in that 71-29 percent drubbing.
The voting demographic has shifted, which can be seen in Washington’s twice electing Barack Obama and putting Jay Inslee in the governor’s office over Rob McKenna, and passage of gay marriage and legalized marijuana measures.
Fighting such an initiative when the press will most assuredly be in favor of its passage will require a lot of money. It will also require every gun owner in the state to convince everyone he or she knows that, as Gottlieb says, the measure is flawed. It would also require complete gun owner unity, and considering remarks in the Seattle Times, that may not be possible.
Therein lays a political minefield, because WAGR would craft its own initiative language, not simply copy that found in the failed bill. It could easily mandate record keeping, offer law enforcement an exemption but not exempt CPL holders, include provisions that hammer gun shows, perhaps include a ban on semi-autos and standard-capacity magazines for those guns, and even erode or overturn Washington’s long-standing and court-tested model preemption law, thus allowing Seattle to set its own gun regulations.
A broad gun control initiative could include provisions mandating trigger locks or other so-called “safe storage” requirements and even a prohibition on open carry, which has been upheld also by the courts.
And there is something else. According to the Daily Marker, a 12-member “Sunshine Committee” is scheduled to meet next Tuesday to review the current privacy protections for CPL holders. The Daily Marker noted, “There is legitimate worry that if the Legislature passes a bill to require universal background checks and the exemption is lifted, the private information of law-abiding gun owners could be easily obtained including addresses, employment history, even medical records that are researched prior to permit issuance.”
The same threat would exist under an initiative written by anti-gun extremists. As in New York's Westchester county outrage, a newspaper could obtain information on CPL holders and publish it, if the current privacy protections are removed.
Overreach has always been the Achilles’ heel for anti-gunners. They reach too far for too much and skeptical voters slap them back. But Washington State gun owners better not count on that in an anti-gun-rights initiative disguised as a mere “background check” effort. Initiative 676 was disguised as a “trigger lock” measure when it was, in truth, a Draconian anti-gun effort that ended up opposed by most county sheriffs, a majority of state newspapers and rank-and-file law enforcement.
Gun owners should not expect that same lightning bolt to strike twice.