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Firestorm erupts over story about Gottlieb and background checks

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Tempers went ballistic in the firearms community Wednesday morning when the Seattle Times reported that gun rights advocate Alan Gottlieb was negotiating with state lawmakers on so-called “universal background checks.”

On one forum, he was branded a “traitor.” On another, it was alleged that a “sell-out” is “in the works.” Elsewhere, one might think that Gottlieb was the anti-Christ. Even the Seattle Times reader section contains some nasty remarks.

It all has to do with House Bill 1588, against which Gottlieb testified while sitting next to the National Rifle Association’s savvy veteran lobbyist Brian Judy last week. In Gottlieb’s opinion, the measure in its original form “stunk.” It was after the hearing that Gottlieb and Rep. Mike Hope (R-Lake Stevens) had a long conversation.

Gottlieb, founder of the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation and chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, subsequently talked with Hope again, but that discussion is not as close to producing a done deal as the Seattle Times story intimated. One might compare it to the time that Samuel Clemens wrote, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Phones have been ringing non-stop at Gottlieb’s Liberty Park complex since early Wednesday morning, and a stream of e-mails – many apparently written by people who did not read the Times article but only picked up on conversations on gun rights forums – have been stinging.

Last month, people were calling him a hero for forcing the City of Oak Harbor to erase a long-standing city parks gun ban ordinance under threat of a lawsuit. He was cheered last year for beating the City of Seattle on its attempt to ban firearms from city park facilities, and undo the state’s model preemption law in the process. In 2010, he was virtually canonized for having filed the landmark lawsuit that led to the Second Amendment’s incorporation to the states by the U.S. Supreme Court in McDonald v. City of Chicago.

Now, because he has participated in a give-and-take discussion about background checks, he’s suddenly a pariah. Then, again, maybe he isn’t.

Gottlieb may actually hold all the cards in the gun rights debate in Olympia, and he’s a pretty shrewd poker player. Before even considering supporting any kind of expansion of the current background check law, the state would have to make serious concessions, he told Examiner. The Seattle Times article portrayed the situation thusly: “To support it now, Gottlieb is requesting several tweaks, including asking state officials to conduct the checks, not the feds.”

Those “tweaks” include something monumental: Destruction of Washington state’s long-standing handgun registry, a database that has existed for years on every retail handgun purchase. For those gun owners who did not realize this, when a potential buyer fills out paperwork at a gun store, in addition to the federal Form 4473 which is done for the background check, there is a State of Washington Pistol Transfer Application.

One copy goes to local law enforcement and the other goes to the state Department of Licensing, where the record is kept. Under Gottlieb’s proposal, that would cease to exist.

Another concession would be an exemption from background checks for any state resident possessing a concealed pistol license (CPL). Also, no checks would be required for firearms transfers between family members.

In addition, according to Gottlieb, “If you are a member of an organization like the Washington Arms Collectors who does a background check for membership, you would be exempt from additional checks to buy a firearm at their gun shows.” His full statement is below.

Some political insiders have privately suggested that Gottlieb’s maneuver is nothing short of brilliant. On the outside chance this measure should become law, it would be the first time in memory that a state gun registry would be abolished. “That,” said Gottlieb, “would be huge.” Right now, he is waiting to see a substitute measure that includes all of his requirements, and a non-severability clause, meaning that if one section of the law goes down, it all goes down.

Gottlieb does not believe legislative anti-gunners will go along with his provisions, and will kill the bill. If so, the political blood will be on their hands, he says. Gun owners made a legitimate offer and anti-gunners slapped it away because they wanted something for nothing; all “take” and no “give.”

Historically, that has been the pattern with any gun control effort. The prohibition lobby has expected gun owners to roll over for every demand and expect nothing in return, and then insisted that they are being “reasonable” against an "extremist gun lobby." As this column noted, Evergreen State gun rights advocates are pushing back this session in Olympia. Gottlieb’s proposal just might reveal who the real extremists are.

Alan Gottlieb’s statement:

“First you should know that I do not support Washington House Bill 1588 as it is currently written.

“My support for a state universal background check bill must include a substantial victory for gun owners that includes, but is not limited to repealing, prohibiting and destroying the current state handgun registration system and the data base of several million records of gun owners and their firearms that include the type of handguns and the serial numbers.

“This would be a huge victory for our gun rights. We would be the first state to repeal a gun registration system. Think about that and what it means for your privacy as a gun owner and the fact that we all know historically that registration leads to confiscation.

“In addition, if you have a carry permit you will be exempt from additional background checks. No checks would be required for transfers between family members. If you are a member of an organization like the Washington Arms Collectors that does a background check for membership, you would be exempt from additional checks to buy a firearm at their gun shows.

“There are other inclusions that must be made as well that are good for our rights and freedom that need to be in a final bill to have my support.

“My guess is that the gun grabbers will not go along with these provisions and kill the bill. If they do the “blood” so to speak is on their hands, not ours.

“There are other smart, tactical, political and morally justified reasons why I have taken this position that I do not want to make public at this time. We do have enemies and I am not going to telegraph our strategy to them by spelling out our battle plans.

“I enjoy winning our freedoms more than the fight. I wish I can say that about some of my critics who have pre-judged without knowledge what it is that I am doing.

“Anyone who knows me knows that for the past forty years my efforts have expanded and protected our right to keep and bear arms from local city councils all the way to the United States Supreme Court.”

Alan Gottlieb

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