Will state lawmakers find the courage to act on guns?

The OlympianJanuary 9, 2014 

GUN SHOW

Members of the Washington Arm Collectors leave the organization's annual gun show held on the fairground in Puyallup, February 24, 2013. (Peter Haley / Staff photographer)

PETER HALEY — THE NEWS TRIBUNE Buy Photo

In Connecticut, hundreds of gun owners waited in long lines to register their assault rifles and firearms with high-capacity magazines before the Jan. 1 deadline, joining more than 25,000 who had already complied with the state’s new law.

With bipartisan support, Connecticut expanded its ban on assault-style firearms and the sale of large-capacity ammunition magazines. It now requires background checks on private gun sales and makes violating the law a felony.

It’s similar to the tougher gun laws that states such as New York, Colorado and Maryland passed after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre Dec. 14, 2012, but which Washington state lawmakers didn’t have the courage to seriously address.

Meanwhile, more than 340,000 Washington citizens signed petitions for two competing initiatives to the state Legislature.

Initiative 594 would add a requirement to existing state law for background checks on gun sales transacted online or privately at gun shows. It is backed by the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, a coalition of citizens and organizations.

Initiative 591 would prohibit expanding the background check requirements unless a uniform national standard is adopted. It would also prevent the state from confiscating firearms without due process, which is an NRA-fueled red herring scare tactic.

A bill similar to I-594 failed in the House last year and never saw the light of day in the Senate.

Some opponents of I-594 say the state Department of Licensing currently can’t keep up the database of guns purchased from licensed dealers, so expanding their work makes little sense. The DOL has a backlog of about 144,000 firearm transfer documents to process.

In his supplemental budget proposal, Gov. Jay Inslee set aside $409,000 in the general fund for the DOL to hire seven temporary staff members to clear the firearms backlog by June 30, 2015. Inslee also proposed that DOL form a workgroup to recommend ways to make the program sustainable through a fee recovery system.

It’s unlikely that state lawmakers will muster sufficient political bravery in the 2014 session to tackle this issue. It’s an election year, after all, and such an inflammatory issue could motivate voters and conceivably swing control of either or both legislative chambers.

If the Legislature doesn’t act, the two conflicting initiatives will go on this fall’s general election ballot, where voters will decide their fate.

Perhaps that’s as it should be. But we aren’t looking forward to a highly charged emotional campaign funded by the NRA and other outside interests that has the potential to turn nasty.

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