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Background check gun bill dies by 1,000 cuts

A bill to require background checks dies despite hours of delay, arm bending and theatrics.
Rep. Jamie Pedersen

Rep. Jamie Pedersen State House of Representatives

Sometimes, even a visit from the governor isn't enough.

The biggest gun control bill to emerge from the first half of the state's 2013 lawmaking session died an agonizing, drawn-out death at the hands of politics this week. And it took a few other bills down with it.

The proposal was House Bill 1588, Seattle Democratic Rep. Jamie Pedersen's effort to close the gun show loophole. As originally proposed, the bill would have required background checks on any sale of a firearm. The checks are currently only required on sales by licensed gun dealers. By including sales between individuals, the bill proposed walling off the last avenues open in the state for obtaining a gun without such a check. It even had a Republican co-sponsor.

But that all came to a grinding halt Monday, when House Democrats found themselves just a few votes shy of the 50 needed to pass the House, where they have firm control with 57 members. And that's when things got crazy — or as crazy as things ever get in a roomful of politicians who know they're on camera.

First, Gov. Jay Inslee showed up. After spending time in Speaker Frank Chopp's office and other private rooms on the Democratic side of the House, the governor came out and spoke to assembled reporters alongside Pedersen. Finally, Inslee stepped out onto the floor of the House — a large room at the center of the action, where every representative has a personal desk and voting button — to talk with Rep. Maureen Walsh, a Walla Walla Republican.

Then came the call from Congresswoman-turned-gun-control-advocate Gabrielle Giffords, also to Walsh. Meanwhile, rumors — never confirmed — flew of an expected call from Vice President Joe Biden.

But, for all the Democratic show, no vote came Monday. Instead, the Democrats, who as the House majority dictate the tempo of the chamber and what bills are voted on, ran other bills late into the night, keeping legislators on the floor until after 10 p.m.

By Tuesday morning, few arms were left to twisted. Still, no vote came. Instead, Democrats gathered in their private chambers, a process known as "caucusing" and generally used to line up votes and horse-trade support for a proposal. Then they came back out. And went back in. And came back out. And went back in.

Only five bills were considered Tuesday — four in the morning and one in the afternoon — in a chamber that usually hears more than five bills before lunch. Instead of hearing bills, between caucus meetings, moderate Representatives holding potentially key votes went into and out of the office of the head of the Democratic caucus, and everyone else waited.

At least part of the deliberations centered on some of the 10 amendments attached to the bill, especially one added late in the process that would have drastically changed the effect of the awaited vote.

That amendment was to simply send the bill to a vote by citizens of the state in the general election later in the year. It changed the bill from a proposed law, essentially, to a proposed referendum. Even if the bill made it out of the legislature, citizens would still have to approve it, potentially providing some political cover to moderate or conservative lawmakers considering voting in favor of the bill.

But, when the amendment was added and those lawmakers came on board, others pulled their support, keeping the bill just shy of the 50 votes required to pass. Instead of simply letting the bill go to a vote and risking failure, House Democratic leadership chose to wait, forcing everyone else to wait with them.

Finally, shortly after 8 p.m. Tuesday — after a day at a standstill — Pedersen threw in the towel, declaring the bill dead. Instead of even bringing the bill to the floor for a vote, the Democrats simply moved on.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Mar 14, 7:19 a.m. Inappropriate

I've been a Democrat for 45 years, my entire adult life, and I've never felt more ashamed of my party than I do right now. Firearm safety is a core Democratic value, and there's simply no excuse for this sad outcome.

Posted Thu, Mar 14, 8:21 a.m. Inappropriate

Good backstory piece. Pretty sure House split is 55-43.

Ammons

Posted Thu, Mar 14, 9:02 a.m. Inappropriate

Just read the bill report for SHB 1588. Looks like a parent would be required to pay for a background check of his child before selling her his shotgun or hunting rifle. Ditto a woman and her sister. How do those requirements make us safer? It's a puzzle.

Posted Thu, Mar 14, 10:40 a.m. Inappropriate

SHB 1588's zero-exception approach to firearms transfers makes sense only if -- as its opponents claimed -- it was intended as a precursor to universal gun registration and imposition of a New-York-type permit system.

This would mandate firearms-owner ID cards even for shotguns and rifles -- and mandatory-sentence prosecution if you didn't have a registration certificate and a bill of sale for every gun in your possession.

It would also, of course, provide the state with yet another revenue source, and become a major profit center for gun dealers, who already charge as much as $50 for processing non-customer transfers. (For those unfamiliar with the firearms business, that's $50 for a three-minute telephone call to the instant-check authorities, or potentially $1,000 per hour, all profit.)

Though Obama used the same type of here's-what's-in-it-for-you bribery to buy off the Wall Street opponents of health care reform, the effort didn't work with Washington state firearms dealers, who remained among 1588's most determined opponents.

Nevertheless the forcible disarmament advocates in Washington state are exceptionally skilled at application of the slowly boiled-frog strategy.

Note for example the forcible closure of all informal community shooting ranges -- sandpits and the like -- that began in the 1980s under then-governor Booth Gardner. Likewise the steady reduction in hunter access to public lands, chiefly by road closures, that began about the same time.

Both these policies resulted from the Gardner-era Democratic Party decision to impose forcible disarmament via the back door -- that is, by eliminating opportunities for firearms use until finally there were so few gun owners, outlawing guns would be (relatively) easy.

Welcome to the real Washington state: even now, just as Watergate Felon John Ehrlichman testified during the 1974 hearings, a rat lab in which the One Percent perfects its techniques of oppression.

Posted Thu, Mar 14, 5:17 p.m. Inappropriate

I completely agree with you. I was in favor of a renewed push for gun control after the Connecticut shootings, but a couple of things happened to put me on the side of the N.R.A. for the first time ever.

First, there was a bill that would have changed the definition of justifiable homicide in such a way as to require a homeowner whose home was invaded to verify that his or her life was in danger before using a firearm to defend the premises. This would have allowed invaders to come in, trash a house, steal all the contents, while the armed homeowner stood back and let it happen.

Then there was a different bill that would have allowed every sheriff the right to "inspect" the home of the owner of a rifle designated as an assault weapon, meaning any rifle with a magazine containing more than 10 rounds. When that came to light, one of the sponsors claimed not to know the provision existed, even though it was the third time he had proposed it. The other sponsor blamed his staff for not telling him.

I don't believe the gun control lobby when they claim they just want to make things safer. I think they want to cut the heart out of the second amendment. I don't own any guns, and don't expect I ever will, and I have never been a fan of the National Rifle Association. But these proposals have turned me into their supporter.

NotFan

Posted Thu, Mar 14, 9:54 a.m. Inappropriate

"But for more than a few (bills and the constituents they might have served), time spent on guns, an issue in the spotlight, meant no luck this year."

Here we see a perfect example of how forcible disarmament and its associated hysterias is used by the Democrats to conceal and compensate for the fact they are otherwise indistinguishable from the Republicans.

This is particularly true in terms of hostility toward any program that might benefit lower income or chronically unemployed people. The Republicans are actually more honest. The GOP makes no secret it wants all such people dead – that (in accordance with the doctrines set out by Ayn Rand in her capitalist equivalents of Mein Kampf), we should all be exterminated by neglect and abandonment.

Meanwhile the Democrats use the Big Lie, "change-we-can-believe-in" tactics perfected by Obama to camouflage the ugly truth that behind their deceptive rhetoric, they favor the very same ends.

Thus the Democrats loudly and with great fanfare claim to support such measures as Employee Free Choice, single-payer/public-option health care or New Deal-type jobs programs. Then, hiding behind facile distractions such as “gun control” or “gun safety” (the latter the newest euphemism for forcible disarmament) – the Ds make certain the legislation required to blunt the malevolent greed of capitalism never gets a vote.

If the same tactics result in a setback for forcible disarmament, there's always next year, with the nation's murderously under-funded mental health system – like so much else in this former “land of opportunity” now the worst in the industrial world – to guarantee some other lunatic will run amok with a gun.

This strategy and its associated tactics are undeniably obvious in Washington, D.C. The same paradigm prevails in Olympia, rendered less discernable by the presence of a few remaining Real Democrats – die-hard supporters of the humanitarian/populist New Deal principles the ever-more-elite-minded Donkey Party began discarding amidst the class warfare of the Vietnam era.

The real shame, of course, is the stunning contrast between the Democrats' frenzied efforts at forcible disarmament – telephone calls from the vice-president etc. ad nauseam – versus their repeated surrenders on truly vital matters such as protecting women's rights or saving elderly and disabled people from genocidal cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Food Stamps.

Thus does the One Party of Two Names serve its aristocratic masters by savaging all the rest of us.

Posted Thu, Mar 14, 10:50 a.m. Inappropriate

This is a well written and balanced article. The lack of editorializing was appreciated.

The state faces many challenges arising from the economy and the budget. Prioritization on education, health, infrastructure safety, and other areas would have been welcome. Instead, the Democrats decided to engage in the same kind of partisan nonsense for which the Republicans are so notorious (in the real meaning of the word).

In the name of a series of "gun safety" efforts, none of which apparently involved any person or group with any real knowledge of the subject they pushed a series of bills that were badly formed. The most obvious being the one that contained a dubious search provision that (1) had appeared before in legislation sponsored by the same people, (2) came from model legislation written by out-of-state anti-gun groups.

That in itself was enough to put the package of bills in jeopardy, but it was followed by the specific actions of HB 1158. A real effort at compromise led by in in-state gun rights group centered on a tradeoff. The background check bill would be supported in return for the elimination of a de facto gun owner database.

That database comes about from the background checks done under the current system. The original legislation had no intent, express or implied, to allow this data to be used long term, only for the background check.

A statewide association of police chiefs and sheriffs opposed that amendment because they claimed the data was useful to them. It is not publicly known what those uses were, but the agreement was scuttled. It should be noted that the law enforcement group is dominated by city police chiefs who are beholden to appointing authorities, unlike the largely elected sheriffs. To add insult to injury active and former (?) police were them exempted from the new bill.

This pretty much ensured that this bill would not pass even the initiating chamber. What really riles me is that much consideration of much important legislation is now crammed into the short time frame before the budgetary process.

Then there is the actual gun safety business. Parties on both sides recognize that known criminals with guns and mental health issues are central to the debate and actionable. The latter, in itself, is a major problem that would take real consideration and debate. It involves the balancing of individual rights and privacy against public policy concerns.

Lots of action on those fronts. Way to go gals and guys.

Posted Thu, Mar 14, 5:20 p.m. Inappropriate

There are reasonable gun regulations that ought to be enacted. It's just tragic that the gun control lobby not only overreached, but then actually lied about the contents of this and other proposals. If that's how they think they'll win support, they can do without the backing of this long-time advocate of gun control.

What a shame. Tom James, if you want to file a complaint, find a mirror. This was your fault, and the fault of your supporters.

NotFan

Posted Thu, Mar 14, 7:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Considering how inept the police are with guns, perhaps they should be the first ones disarmed. Poor people of all colors would be grateful.

Djinn

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