The Legislature moved this year to restrict gun access for people who are subject to restraining orders, a move supporters heralded as a victory for victims of domestic violence.
But lawmakers also took passes on two citizen initiatives dealing with gun issues, and it’s unclear if lawmakers’ support for a limited gun control measure will translate into voter support for universal background checks on gun sales.
House Bill 1840 — the only gun-control measure to pass the Legislature this session — unanimously cleared the Senate last week after having already received unanimous approval in the House. The measure is now headed to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk.
The legislation would require those with protection orders against them to surrender all firearms while the order is in effect, but only if a judge also rules they pose a physical threat to their partner or child.
State Rep. Roger Goodman, a Kirkland Democrat who sponsored the bill, said the measure protects gun ownership rights while also looking out for survivors of domestic violence.
“Firearms rights are strongly protected,” Goodman said. “This bill makes sure we abide by that but let’s hold accountable those who are threatening (victims).”
The legislation was introduced last year and approved by the House but didn’t made it to the floor of the Senate.
Sen. Mike Padden, a Spokane Valley Republican who chairs the Senate Law and Justice Committee, said the bill gained support this year after being amended so it wouldn’t force individuals to automatically give up their firearms if a protection order is issued against them. Unlike last year’s proposal, this year’s version requires judges to rule that an individual poses a credible threat to a partner, spouse or child before issuing an order requiring the surrender of guns to a local police department.
Before, “there were some concerns that something as important as gun rights should not be taken away from someone without a conviction,” Padden said. But he said that lawmakers also wanted to ensure “that victims of domestic violence not be put in a position where they could be in grave danger.”
Rory Graves, whose mother was critically injured when her stepfather shot her during a domestic dispute in 2012, called the legislation “a huge win” for victims. Graves, who lives in Bothell, testified in support of the bill earlier this year.
“Domestic violence isn’t a rare problem,” Graves said. “The legislation will save lives.”
Christian Sinderman of the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, a major backer of this fall’s Initiative 594, said the legislation’s success gives the I-594 campaign momentum as it heads toward the November election. The initiative would establish a universal background check requirement for all gun sales statewide.
“It shows there is some willingness to adopt gun-responsibility legislation,” said Sinderman, a spokesman for the alliance.
But supporters of Initiative 591, a competing gun initiative, say the bill lawmakers approved to deal with perpetrators of domestic violence is no indicator of how the gun initiatives will fare in November.
“It’s a good, bipartisan bill that everyone supported,” Bellevue gun rights advocate Alan Gottlieb said. “It doesn’t impact anything.”
I-591 would prohibit any background checks stricter than what the federal government dictates and prevent the government from confiscating firearms without due process.
The two gun-related initiatives were certified by Secretary of State Kim Wyman in January and sent to the Legislature for consideration.
Public hearings for both initiatives were held in both chambers, but no action was taken, thus sending the initiatives to the ballot.
Goodman, the sponsor of the domestic violence bill that passed the Legislature, said that while lawmakers are hesitant to approve universal background checks for gun sales, voters may be more willing to support it.
He compared I-594, the gun-background check measure, to the initiative voters approved in 2012 to legalize recreational use of marijuana. That issue also “was perceived as too hot to handle” in the Legislature, he said.
“If there’s any way that we can save just one life, for me it is worth it to do more extensive background checks,” Goodman said.
Padden said he isn’t sure the passage of gun-related legislation means much to the larger issue of gun control in Washington. House Bill 1840 was important, but doesn’t necessarily mean voters or lawmakers want more stringent gun laws, Padden said.
The Legislature also approved Senate Bill 5956, which passed unanimously in the Senate and by a 95-3 vote in the House. It would allow for the lawful possession of short-barreled rifles that are legally registered and acquired under federal law.