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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."

Mandatory Background Checks For Gun Sales Dies In Washington House

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – A controversial proposal to require criminal background checks for most gun purchases appears to have died in the Washington House. That announcement came Tuesday night after two days of efforts to wrangle enough votes to pass the measure.

For a time it looked like backers had the 50 votes they needed to pass the universal background check measure – if they agreed to send it to voters for final approval. But that referendum clause ultimately cost the bill more supporters than it won over. Prime sponsor Jamie Pedersen says some members of his Democratic caucus were worried about the timing of a public vote on background checks.

“Some of them very firmly believe that a referendum in 2013 being an off year and a low turnout year was not the time to take the risk,” Pedesen says.

Pedersen wanted to close what he perceives as a loophole in Washington law. Currently licensed gun dealers must conduct background checks, but they are not required for person-to-person firearms sales at gun shows or elsewhere. Brian Judy is a lobbyist for the NRA. He says his members let legislators know in no uncertain terms that they feel background checks would have been a burden on law abiding gun owners.

“Did the NRA kill it or did tens of thousands of Washington citizens who feel very passionately about their firearms rights kill it? It’s one in the same,” Judy says.

Washington House Democrats note they did pass other measures aimed at reducing gun violence – including a requirement that people with restraining orders against them surrender their guns.

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."