Gun background checks take a step forward

More amendments to a bill cosponsored by a Republican police officer are planned when the full House votes. The NRA says the sponsorship will weigh heavily in future ratings of the Republican, who is also a Seattle police officer.
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Rep. Mike Hope

More amendments to a bill cosponsored by a Republican police officer are planned when the full House votes. The NRA says the sponsorship will weigh heavily in future ratings of the Republican, who is also a Seattle police officer.

Major changes to how some Washingtonians buy guns is one step closer to reality — even after a series of confusing amendments and charges from the nation's largest pro-gun lobby of a conspiracy.

House Bill 1588 passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, riding on a 7-to-6 vote that included a Republican who crossed party lines. The bill proposes requiring background checks on all gun sales, including when both the buyer and the seller are private citizens.

Tuesday's movement followed what cosponsor Rep. Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens, called a campaign to stir up misinformation.

Of his decision to buck other committee Republicans who opposed the bill, Hope said highly publicized gun tragedies had spurred him to action. "I have to vote my conscience," said Hope, who also is a Seattle police officer.

If made law, citizens would theoretically be able to get the checks from any police station or gun store.

National Rifle Association representative Brian Judy said Tuesday the bill was a step toward a state list of all gun owners — and ultimately toward banning guns. The comments echoed remarks Judy made at a public hearing last week.

"Registration is not specifically mentioned in the bill, but it’s there," Judy said at the first hearing. While any individual piece of legislation might seem benign, Judy said after the hearing that he thought a general gun ban was the long-term goal of most of the bill's supporters.

Specifically, Judy said, existing law requires a paper trail on police and dealer background checks using the federal instant database system called NICS — National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Judy also said he was worried about delays and higher costs — basically taxes — from forcing buyers to go through a third party.

Judy, whose organization had given Hope an A+ rating on gun issues, said cosponsorship of the bill alone wouldn't decide Hope's future rating, but that it would weigh heavily against him.

Hope said he and the bill's sponsor, Seattle Democrat Rep. Jamie Pedersen, are planning to introduce an amendment before the bill makes it to the House floor to address exactly those concerns. The biggest change in the amendment, Hope said, would be to avoid the possibility of a paper trail by switching the background check from NICS to the system used by the Washington State Patrol, along with language requiring police to destroy any record of the checks. Between the two, Hope said, the system would be anonymous.

Hope said the ammendment would also keep the costs on transfers down by allowing the Department of Revenue to tax only the background check fee — capped at $20 at police stations.

The amendment, which Hope said should officially arrive within a week, would be the third in a series of changes that, if not irregular, certainly left some confused. The first amendent, submitted just before a Feb. 13 public hearing, addressed several issues many raised with the original bill, including fears of a registry. Confusion was evident however, when many, including prominent Bellevue gun advocate Alan Gottlieb, testified that they had not had time to read the substitute, and aired concerns it appeared to resolve.

The second amendment was distributed at Tuesday's committee session, and went further in the same direction — but was withdrawn without comment just before the vote. Pedersen said the first was a response to feedback his office received about the bill. The second was offered, Hope said, because the first didn't completely address concerns of a registry. But Hope said he asked for the second to be withdrawn because he thought it needed minor changes.

Hope noted that he and Pedersen have worked with Gottlieb, head of national gun lobby The Citizens Committee for the Rght to Keep and Bear Arms; he called Judy's continued claims about registration misinformation. The distortion, Hope said, began when the NRA sent fliers to voters in Hope's district specifically claiming 1588 was an attempt by legislators to set up a gun registry.

Earlier, Judy told Crosscut that, aside from Hope, committee supporters were intent on a registry: "They want to know who owns guns." In response, Hope said Tuesday,  "To say that he knows what's going on in legislators' minds is just bizarre, and inaccurate."

Nevertheless, Hope acknowledged, NICS "has the potential to create a registration." And until the promised amendment arrives, NICS is the system listed in the bill.

Pedersen has expressed optimism about passage by the full House and support from the Senate. But Republican control of key Senate committees has led some, including Republican Sen. Pam Roach, to predict no action on the measure there. 

Crosscut has expanded its coverage of Olympia, including the state Legislature and new Gov. Jay Inslee. To read all our stories, go to Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Tom James

Tom James

Tom James is a feature writer and photographer from Kingston, Washington, who has reported from Seattle, Olympia, Guatemala, Jordan, and the Olympic Peninsula on topics ranging from drug use in the Navy to the silent epidemic of PTSD among refugees and what happens when fathers are deported. You can find his contact information at