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The only question that matters may not be asked in Olympia

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When former Congresswoman Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords appears today in Olympia to testify in favor of Initiative 594, the 18-page gun control measure being sold as a “universal background check” requirement, only one question should be respectfully asked: How would adoption of this measure have prevented the kind of thing that happened in Tucson in January 2011?

That's the incident in which Giffords was shot in the head by a gunman who killed six people and wounded 12 others, including the former congresswoman. She will be accompanied today by her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly.

The question is a fair one. There is no disrespect in it. If Ms. Giffords comes to Washington State to testify on behalf of a gun control proposal, because of her personal tragedy and triumph, she ought to explain how this measure would have prevented what happened.

According to the Associated Press and KTAR in Phoenix, Giffords will be featured in a new gun control advertisement to be aired before and after tonight’s State of the Union speech by President Barack Obama, shown here courtesy The Gun Wire. He is not expected to push any new gun control proposals, but that’s what the commercials will do.

The report says Giffords will insist that “Congress is afraid of the gun lobby.” She will tell viewers to “Tell Washington it’s too dangerous to wait.”

She will assert that background checks “make it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to get guns.” But the gunman who shot her did go through a background check. So did the shooters at Fort Hood, Aurora, Arapahoe High School, Virginia Tech, the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard, Northern Illinois University and Seattle’s Jewish Federation, and, of course, Saturday’s attack at the Columbia Mall in Maryland. This column discussed how the Maryland incident Saturday has eroded three entrenched gun control myths.

Giffords’ appearance today is getting a negative reaction so far from Seattle Times readers. Her visit was confirmed yesterday by this column. Many wonder why a Washington political battle is any of her business since she doesn’t live here. Her visit to Olympia is largely for dramatic purpose, a powerful emotional strategy that could carry considerable weight.

As the survivor of the horrible Tucson attack, Giffords does have a voice in the discussion, but it will not be the only voice. Lawmakers will also be hearing from people who live here; law-abiding citizens who own firearms, haven’t harmed anyone, and view I-594 as a precursor to even more gun control legislation over the horizon.

Ms. Giffords’ appearance in Olympia should be far less an issue than the answer to that single question asked above, an answer that is elusive at best.

The National Rifle Association has called I-594 a “universal handgun registration” scheme. Many in the firearms community believe sincerely that the only way for a so-called “universal background check” to ultimately work would be to reinforce it with gun registration.

Coinciding with hearings today and tomorrow is some interesting information that raises questions about assertions being made by backers of that gun control measure, the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility (WAGR).

On the WAGR website is the assertion that “an estimated 40% of gun transfers take place without going through a licensed dealer, including online and at gun shows.”

The folks at Protect Our Gun Rights (POGR) — the group backing Initiative 591, which mandates that Washington state background checks comply with a uniform national standard — note that this estimate earned a “three Pinocchio” rating from the Washington Post Fact Checker. That means the figure is essentially bogus.

Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Bellevue-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, made that point Sunday at a gathering of several hundred Republicans and conservatives in Ocean Shores. He will testify today in support of I-591 and in opposition to I-594.

POGR’s response is that “so-called ‘online sales’ do not constitute transfers of firearms. Firearms are often advertised for sale on the internet, but federal law prohibits any person who is not a dealer from mailing or shipping a firearm interstate to a person who is not a dealer. Federal law prohibits transferring a firearm to a non-dealer who resides in another state. And federal law prohibits knowingly providing a firearm to a person who is prohibited from possessing firearms.”

The WAGR website also says “A national survey of inmates found that nearly 80% of those who used a handgun in a crime acquired it in a private transfer.”

POGR says that doesn’t tell the whole story. The Bureau of Justice Statistics published a survey and issued a report titled “Firearms Use by Offenders.” According to POGR, “the 80% includes firearms obtained from street and illegal sources (including theft, the black market and drug dealers) and firearms bought, borrowed and rented from friends and family members.” In other words, transactions that do not now, and never would, involve a background check that I-594 backers insist would kick in.

That same survey found that less than one percent (0.7 %) of these criminals got their guns from gun shows. The data appears on Page 6. So much for the so-called “gun show loophole.”

Gottlieb and others will be certain state lawmakers have all of this information in hand before they leave Olympia.

There are two hearings on both measures this week, today and tomorrow. Here are the particulars:

Today at 1:30 p.m.
House Hearing Room A
John L. O'Brien Building

Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.
Senate Hearing Room 1
J.A. Cherberg Building

This column will cover both hearings in reports from Olympia.

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