State House Democrats at risk of failing on gun check bill

The bill's main sponsor, Seattle Democrat Jamie Pedersen, says he doesn't have enough support lined up for it to pass yet. But Gov. Jay Inslee talked with members urging votes for the measure.
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Gov. Jay Inslee talks to reporters Monday after urging House members to pass a measure dealing with the gun show loophole.

The bill's main sponsor, Seattle Democrat Jamie Pedersen, says he doesn't have enough support lined up for it to pass yet. But Gov. Jay Inslee talked with members urging votes for the measure.

Gov. Jay Inslee lobbied personally on behalf a proposal for universal background checks of gun purchasers toward becoming law, but the House Democratic leadership wasn't prepared to take a vote on Monday.

Inslee visited the chambers of the state House of Representatives early Monday to lend his weight to gathering votes for the measure. Of the 50 votes necessary to send the bill to the Senate, 47 were lined up as of the governor's visit, according to the bill's sponsor, Seattle Democratic Rep. Jamie Pedersen.

After spending time in private offices on the Democratic side of the chambers, the governor then headed onto the floor, to talk with Rep. Maureen Walsh, a Walla Walla Republican. After Inslee finished with Walsh, House Republican leader Rep. Richard DeBolt of Chehalis stopped by Walsh's desk.

House Speaker Frank Chopp and the Democrats have a solid 55-to-43 majority but they apparently have a number of their own members unwilling to support the measure. it appeared that they were unwilling to bring the bill to a vote without assurance that they would win. After hours of suspense, the Democrats gave up on efforts to schedule a vote for Monday. But the House still has Tuesday and Wednesday to pass the bill.

The measure would close the so-called gun show loophole by requiring that anybody selling a gun get a state background check on the buyer. Currently only licensed gun dealers are required to get the checks. Under the proposal, failing to get the check would be a crime on the part of the seller.

The measure has had some bipartisan support from the beginning, with Republican Rep. Mike Hope of Lake Stevens joining Pedersen as a co-sponsor. But lobbying heated up as the bill moved toward a vote by the whole House. Shortly before the public hearing for the bill, the National Rifle Association sent out mailers in Hope's district, and a spokesman for the organization went on the record saying that the measure was intended to create a government list of gun owners. Soon after, however, another gun rights lobby — the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms — joined the sponsors of the initiative in working to improve the bill.

Pedersen said he changed parts of the bill not only to suit that group, but also in response to requests from police in the state, who asked that law officers be exempt.

Other than the 47 confirmed votes, Pedersen said six were on the fence, and that the bill might very well see a floor vote today. The bill needs a one-vote majority to pass in the House, or three more votes of the six.

Even if the bill clears the House, it faces a tough road in the Senate, where it would likely be sent to the Law and Justice Committee. The chair of that committee, Spokane Republican Sen. Mike Padden, used common procedural maneuvers to block five moderate gun safety bills earlier in the session. After that hearing Padden refused to comment on the fate of Pedersen's bill, should it make it to the Senate. Instead he would only say that any gun control bill that came to his committee would have "a tough row to hoe."

If the bill couldn't clear Law and Justice, its only hope would be invocation of a seldom-used procedural maneuver where a majority of legislators can force a vote on any bill, even those that died in committee.


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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