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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

By Brian M. Rosenthal, The Seattle Times

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords headlined a crowded and emotional hearing on gun-sale background checks here Tuesday, giving Washington state a preview of a looming debate.

In brief remarks aimed both at lawmakers and the voters who will almost certainly get the final say, Giffords symbolically cast her story of surviving a shooting rampage as an argument for requiring the checks for all gun sales.

“Be bold, be courageous,” she urged. “The nation is counting on you.”

Giffords, a Democrat who was shot in the head during a rampage that killed six and injured a dozen others, subsequently retired from Congress and founded her own national gun-violence-prevention group.

She and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, spoke Tuesday at a state House Judiciary Committee hearing on Initiative 594, which would mandate the universal background checks, and Initiative 591, which would keep the current system requiring the checks only for sales from licensed firearm dealers.

The proposals — initiatives to the legislature — are getting hearings in the House and Senate this week even though they are expected to end up on the November ballot. Lawmakers can pass such initiatives into law but usually punt them to voters.

Representative Laurie Jinkins (D-WA), who chairs the Judiciary panel, said she does not even plan to bring up the measures for committee votes.

“I don’t see the purpose of doing that,” said Jinkins, adding she held the hearing out of respect for the hundreds of thousands of residents who signed petitions to qualify the initiatives for consideration.

Judging by Tuesday’s turnout, residents appreciated the courtesy.

Hundreds poured onto the Capitol campus for the afternoon hearing, filling 46 sign-in sheets for public testimony, according to committee staff. Only a fraction actually got to testify, with the rest relegated to the hallway or the state House chambers, where video of the hearing was projected onto a large screen.

Those who did testify were evenly divided between supporters and opponents of universal background checks.

Giffords and Kelly went first, arguing expanded checks would save lives by helping prevent criminals and dangerously mentally ill residents from getting guns — “all without infringing on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” Kelly said.

Kelly, who had previously testified in support of similar laws in Colorado, Nevada and Delaware, played up his Washington state connections: He noted he used to live on Whidbey Island and mentioned Seattle’s May 2012 Cafe Racer shootings before discussing several more recent tragedies.

“Since celebrating the new year, America has seen a school shooting every other day,” Kelly said.

Other victims also pleaded for passage of Initiative 594.

Gun-rights advocates countered the measure would not prevent shootings.

“‘Five ninety four’ is not about universal background checks, because criminals will ignore the law and continue to obtain firearms where most criminals obtain firearms now” — illegal sources,” said Brian Judy, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association.

Instead, Judy referred to the proposal as an “excessive regulatory scheme” to register gun owners that would serve only to burden law-abiding gun owners.

Phil Shave, executive director of the Washington Arms Collectors, which hosts gun shows, said the measure “would affect millions of our citizens and, in my opinion, accomplish nothing.”

But others, like Joe Deaser, said that even saving one life would make Initiative 594 worthwhile.

Deaser, who owns a gun club in California, which has universal background checks, said they are “a very important part of the puzzle” of preventing violence.

The heated debate took place as other activists milled in the hallway.

Supporters of Initiative 594 wore blue and red stickers that said “YES ON 594: Save Lives. Reduce Crime.”

Second Amendment activists, some of whom took advantage of their right in Washington state to carry firearms openly, wore white stickers with a red line through the words “Gun Control.”
Devyn Hembry, a 24-year-old former DJ from Shelton, carried a semi-automatic rifle and distributed photographs of Giffords carrying a rifle, meant to portray the former congresswoman as a hypocrite.

In general, Kelly said in an interview, he and his wife were pleased with the atmosphere.

“It’s great to see that people are enthusiastic about this from both sides of the issue,” he said.

Kelly said he doesn’t know how involved the couple will be in Washington’s initiative fight.

Photo via Wikimedia

  • daniel bostdorf

    We need a NATIONAL Presidential Executive Order that makes background checks mandatory for any/all gun purchases etc….

    These are the major points why:

    “Since 1968, federal law has banned the possession of firearms by
    convicted felons, domestic abusers, and people who are dangerously
    mentally ill. The Brady law, enacted in 1993, requires a criminal
    background check before any licensed dealer can sell any firearm. (Some
    states require more.) A National Instant Criminal Background Check
    System (NICS) for gun purchases, operated by the FBI, began operation in
    1998. The White House says that because private sales are exempted, “as
    many as 40 percent of all gun purchases are conducted without a
    background check.” That is true but it’s more effective (and more
    accurate) to say “millions.” Requiring a background check for every gun
    sale is simply common sense, and that’s why 9 of 10 Americans support it.”

    “The federal background check law has blocked more than 1.5 million illegal gun sales over the past 14 years. It works. The problem is that the law doesn’t apply to private sales, so felons can avoid a background check and get any kind of gun, no questions asked. Both the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the national Fraternal Order of Police have endorsed mandatory, universal background checks because they know it will save lives. It’s time to close the private sales loophole.”

    “Nobody suggests this law will stop all criminals. To be successful, the
    law doesn’t have to. No law stops all crime! It’s simply common sense to
    block as many illegal sales as possible. Many conservatives and
    conservative groups including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, support universal background checks because it will save lives.”

    “There is nothing in ANY background check proposal that creates a
    registry. In fact, existing law forbids the federal government from
    establishing a gun registration list. Specifically, every time the
    background check system is used and the gun purchase is approved, the
    government is required to destroy all records about the purchaser.”

    “I support the 2nd Amendment and would fight against any future
    overreaching legislation. But it is not realistic to oppose something on
    the grounds that it might someday lead to something else. The fact is,
    even gun owners overwhelmingly favor requiring a criminal background check of anyone purchasing a gun. What it will lead to is fewer firearm deaths. The fact is, we’ve had a federal background check for nearly 20 years and state background checks long before that. Courts uniformly rule they are constitutional. The NRA itself has conceded the point by repeatedly endorsing a variety of background check proposals. The constitutional question is settled.”

    Finally—In 1999, the National Rifle Association endorsed background checks for all firearm sales at all gun shows. The NRA previously endorsed
    background checks for all firearm sales through all licensed dealers in 1988, 1989, and 1993. Background checks can’t be okay a few years ago and then unconstitutional today. And thank you to the Progressive Majority for there inspirational and rational quotes above.