Today’s dual hearing on Initiatives 591 and 594 before the Senate Law and Justice Committee in Olympia will likely have a lower profile than yesterday’s House event featuring former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, but it might have more red meat.
If yesterday's hearing accomplished nothing else, it clearly drew contrasts between both sides in the "dueling initiative" battle and revealed strategies: lots of emotional testimony from gun control proponents sprinkled with some data, responding data and details about I-594's problems, sprinkled with examples and anecdotal information from gun rights advocates. Seattle Times readers are panning her testimony and that of husband Mark Kelly.
Left unanswered is the question, posed by this column yesterday, about how passage of I-594 would have prevented tragic shootings in Arizona, Seattle, Colorado, Maryland and Texas, where the shooters all bought guns from retail outlets and passed background checks. None of the guns were acquired at gun shows.
Without Giffords and Kelly present today, there could be far more time for questions from committee members and answers from proponents and opponents of both measures. Attending yesterday’s House hearing were Senators Mike Padden, chair of the Senate committee, and Pam Roach. They listened to testimony and most likely formulated questions for today’s witnesses.
Quite possibly the most revealing statement during yesterday’s hearing came from the Rev. Steve Baber from the Skyway Baptist Church and co-chair of the Washington Christian Leaders Coalition. It was Baber who, last May 1, announced his group’s support for the so-called “universal background check” movement in this video.
Addressing the committee yesterday, Baber stated, “We should act on this 594. It’s just a start. It won’t resolve it. It’s not perfect, but we at least start.”
That is the underlying concern of Evergreen State firearms owners who turned out yesterday in big numbers, creating a backup that extended outside the John L. O’Brien House Office Building. The overflow crowd was moved over to the Capitol building. They are concerned that passage of I-594 paves the way for a massive gun registry, the likes of which are already being used against gun owners in California and New York, where a generation ago, gun control proponents scoffed at gun owner concerns about registration, calling those concerns paranoid. The National Rifle Association has already called I-594 a "universal handgun registration" measure.
Yesterday’s Mercer Island Reporter, a community newspaper that has been unabashedly favorable toward I-594, one gun control activist admitted in a letter, “Certainly, universal background checks will not stop all gun violence” while insisting “they will help.” She repeated the discredited claim that “Criminals, domestic abusers and the mentally ill may circumvent this process by purchasing guns online, at gun shows, or from private sellers, no questions asked. Some 40 percent of gun transfers take place this way.” As this column noted, that assertion was given a “three Pinnochio” rating by the Washington Post fact checker.
As Spokane firearms retailer Robin Ball, proprietor at the Sharp Shooting indoor gun range, noted during her remarks yesterday, “You really can’t buy a gun on-line without a background check.” And Phil Shave, executive director of the Washington Arms Collectors, which operates the largest gun shows in the state, explained that licensed dealers do background checks at gun shows, as they would anywhere else.
Today’s Senate hearing will likely provide more opportunity for Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Bellevue-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, and Brian Judy, state liaison for the National Rifle Association, to elaborate on the problems with I-594. Gottlieb should also provide more background on I-591, sponsored by Protect Our Gun Rights.
Unlike I-594, that measure received no negative comments during yesterday’s House committee hearing. It simply prohibits government gun confiscation – as happened following Hurricane Katrina – without due process, while mandating that background checks done in Washington State comply with a uniform national standard.
Today’s hearing begins at 1:30 p.m. in the John A. Cherberg Senate Office Building in Hearing Room 1. This column will report from Olympia later today.
It is doubtful there will be any action on either initiative, and they will simply be allowed to go onto the November ballot.