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In Senate, less circus, more circumspection, no media, one ‘shock’

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Yesterday’s dual Senate hearing on Initiatives 591 and 594 saw supporters of expanded background checks repeatedly insist that their measure would help prevent “gun violence,” while opponents picked the proposal apart and one member of the Senate panel made a startling admission about her attitude toward guns, while in Seattle, yet another anti-gun effort ostensibly aimed at child safety was launched.

The hearing was before the state Senate Law & Justice Committee, chaired by Sen. Mike Padden (R-4th District). It came one day after Tuesday’s almost circus-like hearing on both initiatives before the House Judiciary Committee that saw former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and husband Mark Kelly testify before a packed room and a pack of reporters. By contrast, the Senate session was not even covered in the newspapers, yet the “raw meat” of the initiative battle was on the table.

Early in the two-hour session, State Sen. Jeannie Darneille (D-27th District) candidly revealed, “I am not a person who handles guns. I don’t own guns. I don’t…they shock me, quite frankly. We’re an open carry state and when I see people open carrying their guns, while it may be perfectly legal, it creates a visceral, personal, physical reaction in me as it does in other people…”

Sen. Darneille’s remarks clarified what gun rights activists are actually up against; an emotion toward firearms in some people that approaches revulsion. In the current debate over gun rights, it was a remarkable from-the-heart admission that underscores the cultural divide at the center of the “dueling initiatives” campaign.

By contrast, Vice Chairman Steve O’Ban (R-27th District) pointed out to proponents of I-594, the 18-page gun control measure pushing so-called “universal background checks,” that shooters in many, if not most high-profile shootings in recent memory had all passed background checks. Throughout the hearing, nobody offered a clear explanation how I-594 might have prevented any of these crimes.

Proponents, including I-594 sponsor Cheryl Stumbo, insisted that passing the expanded background check law would keep guns out of the wrong hands. However, it was never clear how I-594, if it were to become law, would have prevented any of the incidents frequently mentioned by gun control advocates, including the Seattle Jewish Federation shooting in 2006 during which Stumbo was severely wounded.

National Rifle Association lobbyist Brian Judy, under questioning from Sen. Jamie Pedersen (D-43rd District), noted that the NRA has taken no position on I-591, which is contrary to the impressions created by earlier fund raising appeals by I-594 supporters. The NRA is opposed to I-594, and during his opening statement, and under questioning from the committee, he pointed to several tenets of the measure that are troubling to the NRA.

He said the initiative applies to all transfers, not just sales, of firearms, making loans of guns to most people subject to background checks. Judy also said the measure could create problems for juvenile hunters, an assertion that was supported by Ed Owens, a retired lobbyist who was speaking on behalf of the Hunters Heritage Council. Owens reminded the committee that it does not matter what I-594 proponents believe the measure will do or not to, it only matters what the measure says and how the courts would decide if someone were charged with violating the “word of law.”

Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, reiterated what he told the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. Initiative 591, he said, “is not and never has been designed to prevent background checks.”

“Our goal from the outset has been to make sure that any such check conducted in Washington lives up to a uniform national standard,” he stated. “This process should be quick, simple and without a mountain of bureaucratic red tape or eighteen pages of complicated regulations designed to discourage, rather than encourage, the exercise of a constitutionally-protected, fundamental civil right.”

One supporter of I-594 was ruled out of order twice when she first accused O’Ban, and later committee members in general, of having an “agenda,” and on the second ruling, she left the hearing room. Opponents of I-594 seemed to slightly outnumber proponents, and discussion of I-591 was limited to Gottlieb’s remarks and calls for support from various speakers.

Both measures are almost certainly headed to the November ballot.

MEANWWHILE, 60 miles north in Seattle, Washington CeaseFire launched the “ASK-Washington” campaign at a Café Paloma press conference in Pioneer Square. According to the Seattle Weekly, the ASK (for “Asking Saves Kids”) project encourages parents to ask other parents whose children play together whether there are any guns in the home.

Some might see this as an invasion of privacy, while CeaseFire is pushing it as a “child safety” issue. While the gun control group insists this is about “educating and supporting parents in making the most tactful outreach possible to minimize awkwardness and maintain neighborly relationships,” some gun rights activists privately suggest that it is also likely to create stigmatization about visiting the homes of gun owners.

CeaseFire President Ralph Fascitelli reportedly told his audience at the press event yesterday, “Gun owners do not ensure the safety of their home.” That’s not exactly the way to maintain “neighborly relationships.”

The organization is launching a well-funded advertising campaign that will run through May with Metro bus ads.

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