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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Vote Delayed On Gun Background Check Measure In Washington House

M Glasgow

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Efforts to muster the 50 votes needed to pass a universal background check measure for gun sales were falling short Monday afternoon in the Washington House of Representatives. A planned vote after 3:00 pm was delayed while backers of the measure continued to work behind the scenes to secure the necessary support. Meanwhile majority Democrats moved on from the topic of reducing gun violence to consider non-related health care measures.

Co-sponsor Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens, said he did not expect a vote Monday. But he did not declare the measure dead. "I think at some point I would imagine that there's going to be a vote on this bill," said Hope, a Seattle police officer. Hope said he believes he is the only Republican "yes" vote for the background check bill.

Earlier in the day, Governor Jay Inslee met with both Democratic and Republican legislators and spoke by phone with former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, an Arizona Democrat who was shot in the head in a mass shooting in 2011. Giffords is pushing for background check legislation at the state and national levels.

"For those who say this won't solve all of our gun violence problems, that's true," Inslee told reporters gathered in the House Democratic wings. "But both Gabby Giffords and I believe it does a common sense thing to take one measure forward, which is to prevent felons from getting firearms. This is something that needs to get done."

Inslee was seen on the House floor speaking with state Representative Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, a original cosponsor of the House measure who has since withdrawn her support. Walsh changed her mind following an National Rifle Association lobbying blitz in her district. She said she became convinced that another law would not stop criminals, but would make it harder for law abiding citizens to purchase a gun.

In an email, Walsh said Inslee "lobbied her on the House floor" to reverse course again. Walsh also said Inslee gave out her personal cell phone number to Giffords. Walsh later received a voicemail from Giffords' office. Walsh said it was "not appropriate" for Inslee to share her private phone number. An Inslee spokeswoman would only confirm the Governor asked for Gifford's help on the bill.

The House proposal would require background checks for all gun sales in Washington, not just those transacted by licensed gun dealers. The check would be conducted by a dealer or local law enforcement. Prime sponsor Representative Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said he was still three votes shy of the 50 vote threshold needed to pass a bill off the House floor.

Outside groups are also lobbying lawmakers on this particular proposal. The liberal Seattle advocacy group Fuse Washington sent out numerous Twitter tweets Monday about its lobbying effort. "In total, Fuse members across WA have emailed or called legislators 5,077 times in support of background checks for gun purchases!," read one message.

The background check measure is one of several gun violence-related legislative proposals Washington House Democrats planned to vote on Monday. Others include:

  • Stiffer penalties for juveniles convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm
  • A requirement that people who have a restraining order against them surrender their firearms
  • A mandate for a state hospital evaluation for criminal defendants who have felony charges dismissed due to mental incompetency

Even if the background check bill passes the Washington House, its prospects in the state Senate are unclear. Nearly two dozen senators have signed onto a similar measure, but leaders of the Majority Coalition Caucus - made up of 23 Republicans and 2 Democrats - have said their goal is to avoid divisive social issues on the Senate floor this session.
On the Web:

HB 1588: Universal background checks - Washington Legislature
Firearms license information - Washington State Dept. of Licensing

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."