Problems abound for a bill now being considered by the Washington legislature that would require “universal background checks” on the transfer of any firearm, according to gun rights advocates who testified in Olympia Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee.
Leading testimony against Substitute House Bill 1588, which has some significant albeit not saving differences from the original bill, were Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Bellevue-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, and Brian Judy, veteran lobbyist for the National Rifle Association.
The substitute bill would still mandate background checks, but opponents argued that the $20 maximum fee allowed to conduct those checks would be rebuffed by licensed firearms dealers who currently charge much more for doing those checks with the National Instant Check System. The committee also learned from various opponents of the measure, and from State Rep. Mike Hope, a Seattle police officer, that police agencies would not conduct such checks even for a fee, because it would violate various department policies and may even violate federal law.
It was not the testimony of gun advocates that raised eyebrows, however, but some statements made by proponents of the measure. Cheryl Stumbo, who survived the Jewish Federation attack in July 2006 supported the bill, insisting that background checks could prevent mentally disturbed people from obtaining firearms and committing a mass shooting.
However, there appeared to be several people in the audience who were familiar with that case and recalled that gunman Naveed Haq had actually passed two background checks to buy the handguns that he used from retail gun shops in the Tri-Cities area.
Dr. David Fleming, director at King County Public Health, contended that requiring background checks would prevent criminals from obtaining guns. When challenged by State Rep. Brad Klippert (R-Kennewick) if he “truly” believed this measure would stop criminals from buying guns, Fleming answered “Yes.”
NRA’s Judy told the committee that the proposal was “unfair and unenforceable” and that it targets the wrong people.
Gottlieb told the committee that while he is not opposed to an “instant” background check, much about this bill indicates the suggested check process might not be instant at all. He was also concerned that in the event of a data system crash, or some natural disaster or declared emergency, the instant check system might be disabled, thus making it impossible to complete a check. Essentially, it would suspend someone’s firearms rights.
Seattle Assistant Police Chief Nick Metz told the committee that his concern could be highlighted by the curbside gun transactions that occurred in connection with Seattle’s gun buyback in January. While those transactions were legal, he said there was no background check capability, and that was “troubling.” Metz assured the committee that he supports the constitution and responsible gun ownership.
He noted that in 2012, there were 323 incidents in Seattle where confirmed shots were fired, resulting in 84 injuries and 40 fatalities, which included homicides, accidental deaths and suicides. Reducing these statistics were one of the goals of the buyback.
One theme that was repeated by several supporters of the measure, including Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-Seattle), who sponsored the bill and also chairs the Judiciary Committee, is that they acknowledged this legislation would not prevent all crimes or solve all the problems of “gun violence” but that it would be a “small step” in the right direction.
This bothers gun rights advocates who recall many gun prohibition efforts over the years as being “a first step.” Their reaction is that each incremental “step in the right direction” translates to one more erosion of their firearms rights.
Following the hearing, Gottlieb and Rep. Hope chatted about possible changes that could be made to the bill to make it amenable to firearms owners. It was obvious that supporters and opponents are widely separated by the present language, and some proponents did not believe the bill is strong enough.
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