Bill would require expanded background checks for guns

Gun-control opponents and supporters packed a hearing room on the Capitol campus in Olympia on Feb. 13 to testify about a bill requiring universal background checks for gun purchases.

Background checks are currently required by state law when buying a gun from a licensed firearms dealer, but not between private, unlicensed citizens. HB 1588 would require a background check for gun sales by private parties.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-43rd District, Seattle), requires the seller to request a National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) check on the buyer from a licensed dealer or local law enforcement, either of which may charge up to $20 for the service.

Under the bill, the background check requirement would not apply to the sale of antique guns.

NICS checks are usually immediate, but if one is delayed for more than three days, the transaction would be allowed to go through without it under provisions in the bill. The same rule currently applies to licensed gun dealers.

Pedersen explained that the bill is a common-sense approach to keeping guns out of the hands of violent criminals and those who are dangerous and mentally ill.

“I believe we have broad agreement in our society that there are some classes of people who should not have guns,” he said, speaking to the House Judiciary Committee that conducted the hearing.

Don Pierce of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs stated that members of his organization support the right of a citizen to own a gun, except for those not allowed to by law.

“The only way that we can really know for sure that we’re limiting the number of gun transactions to felons is to create a background-check process,” said Pierce.

Opponents of the bill claimed it would only affect law-abiding citizens; criminals, they argued, don’t follow laws and would obtain guns illegally.

“Since it’s already illegal for a felon to purchase a handgun anywhere from anyone,” said Linda Wilson, a Clark County gun-owner, stating that responsible gun-owners are aware of the law, “how is regulating the sale of guns by a law-abiding gun owner going to change any action by a criminal?”

“What this is really all about is not really regulating private transactions,” said Brian Judy of the National Rifle Association. “It’s about creating a registration database.”

One officer maintained that police aren’t opposed to responsible gun ownership, but if licensed gun shops need to do a background check then unlicensed sellers should, too.

Dinah Griffey, identifying herself as a domestic-violence survivor, believes regulations on buying guns hurt women by restricting their ability to defend themselves.

“Every time you limit a woman’s right to defend herself, you empower her attacker,” she said.

According to Dr. David Fleming, director and health officer for Seattle Public Health, more people die from guns than car crashes in King County.

“All these injuries and deaths are inherently preventable and therefore gun violence is a public health problem,” Fleming said.

Some solutions are controversial, noted Fleming, but background checks shouldn’t be.

Zoey Palmer is a reporter for the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Olympia News Bureau.


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