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Praise, criticism for ‘excessive’ gun control initiative

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Emotional testimony today in Olympia from former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others supporting adoption of Initiative 594 was countered by a stream of gun rights advocates who dissected the 18-page gun control measure during a hearing of state House Judiciary Committee.

On Wednesday, the measure will be discussed in a Senate hearing.

Giffords’ husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, tossed out an impressive figure, that in the years from 2001 to 2010 there were 5,692 gun-related deaths in Washington. Broken down, that is just over 569 fatalities annually, and how many of them were suicides and accidents rather than criminal homicides might be narrowed down by Kelly’s observation that in 2010, there were 93 people murdered with guns in this state.

Kelly delivered most of the testimony, and Giffords spoke for about one minute, telling lawmakers to “be bold, be courageous; the nation is counting on you.”

“We must never stop fighting,” she said, raising a clenched fist, “fight, fight, fight.”

Giffords' appearance and remarks are already getting brickbats from Seattle Times readers. They have company in the firearms community, where gun rights activists are discussing the hearing here and here.

Cheryl Stumbo, a survivor of the Jewish Federation attack in Seattle eight years ago, and sponsor of I-594, described her wounds and recovery in detail, saying her subsequent surgeries cost $1 million. She contended that this money, paid by the state because she was shot on the job, would have been saved if Washington had background checks on all gun transfers.

But as this column noted earlier, the men who shot Giffords and Stumbo passed background checks because they bought their guns at retail, a fact mentioned by National Rifle Association lobbyist Brian Judy. While he expressed empathy for both women, he also said he was “disappointed that these tragedies wold be exploited to push such a far reaching anti-gun agenda.”

“It’s going to create an excessive regulatory scheme that would disproportionately burden law-abiding firearms sellers and create a massive database of…handgun owners,” Judy asserted.

He discussed data this column revealed earlier Tuesday about where criminals get their firearms, and where they don't get those guns. They obtain guns from family, friends and street sources, he explained, and these people will not go through background checks. He said I-594 "is not simple; it's 18 pages of complicated, regulatory excess."

Bellevue’s Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, delivered strong remarks supporting the alternative measure, Initiative 591, which would require any background checks done in the state to comply with a uniform national standard.

“Contrary to what you may have heard, read, or even been told, I-591 is not and never has been designed to prevent background checks,” he assured. “The process should be quick…and without a mountain of bureaucratic red tape or 18 pages of complicated regulations designed to discourage rather than encourage the exercise of a constitutionally protected, fundamental civil right.”

Among those testifying for I-594 were members of the clergy, a firearms dealer from California, Joe Deaser, and Assistant Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best.

Opposing I-594 were retired law enforcement veterans Phil Shave, now executive director of the Washington Arms Collectors, and Marty Hayes, who has operated the Firearms Academy of Seattle for 24 years and has taught firearms and self-defense to thousands of Washington residents.

In addition, an ailing Robin Ball, proprietor at Spokane’s Sharp Shooting indoor range, flew west to testify, telling lawmakers that there are some “real misperceptions” about I-594, stressing that “you really can’t buy a gun online without a background check.” She also said passage of the measure would create serious burdens for licensed firearms dealers enlisted to do transfers in private party sales.

“There are a lot of flaws in this that will not stop people from acquiring guns illegally,” Ball cautioned.

Following the hearing, one lawmaker privately suggested that the Legislature probably will not act on either initiative, and allow both initiatives to go to the November ballot.

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