Developments over the weekend ramped up opposition to House Bill 1588, the controversial “universal background check” measure in Olympia, and efforts to pass the measure through the House of Representatives bogged down even after – or perhaps because – Gov. Jay Inslee visited the House chamber to twist some arms.
Combined with a concession to a law enforcement lobbying group that ignited a backlash from the firearms community and fired up the grassroots, the measure was still a few votes short for House passage Tuesday morning. It lost key support from an Eastern Washington lawmaker in the process.
Rep. Maureen Walsh reportedly got a call from former Congresswoman Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords urging her to “be courageous” and “be strong.” Instead, Walsh backed away from House Bill 1588, telling a reporter that “This is really an exercise in futility, in my opinion.”
A Giffords phone call might not have the same weight it would have days ago, since the revelation that her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, was in a Tucson gun shop the other day buying a .45-caliber pistol and an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. Once the story surfaced, Kelly hastily declared buying the rifle was some kind of exercise to demonstrate how fast he could clear a background check and buy such a firearm.
UPDATE: National Gun Rights Examiner David Codrea has written an open letter to Kelly, challenging his explanation of the purchase.
Instead of Vice President Joe Biden calling Democrats, as this column suggested, it was Inslee who spent Monday lobbying the bill. He has even reportedly promised phone calls from Giffords to get some holdout support for the bill which has been stripped of key provisions that would have garnered the support of gun rights advocate Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Bellevue-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.
Gottlieb’s support was conditioned on several concessions, especially the removal of the state pistol registry. The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) didn’t like that, so it was removed, and with it went any chance of support from the firearms community. Instead, WASPC was handed an exemption from the background check for law enforcement, a notion that triggered a furious backlash from the firearms community. That wrath has been tying up phone lines and filling e-mail in-boxes with messages of opposition.
This column spoke with a couple of Democrats Monday on background, and their support for the measure is doubtful, though nobody firmly committed to a “No” vote. There was a hint that Inslee’s lobbying effort in the House chamber didn’t help, but had the opposite effect.
Waiting in the political tall grass is the newly-created Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, a group created by Seattle liberals with financial support from “venture capitalist” Nick Hanauer. This column discussed WAGR’s plan to run an initiative pushing a background check scheme if legislation was not adopted in Olympia.
House sponsors might have gotten the background check bill without the current battle, had they gone along with the amendments recommended by Gottlieb. Instead, in what amounted to a double-cross, they made the mistake that is all-too-often made: an accommodation to a law enforcement lobbying group to get their support, in exchange for essentially nothing. Offering the exemption after having stripped out the gun registry language poured gas on the grassroots.
The bill still has a possibility of passing in the House, provided that happens by Wednesday. Proponents are still a few votes shy, and even if it does get to the Senate, odds are it will be in trouble in the Senate Judiciary Committee. However, the Seattle Times is suggesting that if the bill gets to the Senate floor, it could pass.
Tuesday could be a very long day in Olympia.
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