This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.
The effort in Olympia to require background checks for private sales of firearms is turning into a case study of veto by minuscule minority.
Washingtonians want all gun purchasers screened for criminal records and severe psychiatric disorders. The margin of support for universal background checks is off the charts: A recent Elway Poll suggests that roughly 79 percent of Washington voters want everyone screened, including private individuals buying from other private individuals.
Among gun owners, 71 percent of the respondents wanted checks on all purchasers.
The poll hardly looks stacked against gun supporters. It also reported that 55 percent considered the protection of gun rights more important than the control of gun ownership. But even if, say, a 10 percent bias against firearms were embedded in the poll, support for universal background checks would still be extraordinarily high.
Cut to Olympia, where a bill that would enact those checks is faltering in the Legislature – fought by absolutists purporting to represent responsible gun owners.
House Bill 1588 wouldn’t ban military-style “assault weapons.” It wouldn’t require that gun owners register their firearms. It wouldn’t slap them with prohibitive insurance requirements. It wouldn’t make it harder for them to get concealed pistol permits.
No reasonable person can construe it as attack on a law-abiding person’s right to bear arms – a right that is explicitly guaranteed by the Washington Constitution, not to mention the Second Amendment.
HB 1588 is designed to make it harder for dangerous people to get their hands on firearms. It wouldn’t catch all of the bad guys – who can steal guns or buy them on the black market – but it wouldn’t deter irresponsible sellers and create an additional obstacle that would likely save lives.
The bill’s chief sponsor, state Rep. Jamie Pederson, D-Seattle, has been more than accommodating to its opponents. He amended it to exempt licensed collectors, antique firearms and buyers with concealed pistol permits (who have already been screened).
The original bill would have allowed law enforcement agencies to keep copies of applications for private gun sales. The revised version forbids it. The bill also lets the sale go forward if the background check takes more than three business days.
In short, it is precisely tailored to deny guns to potential killers at the point of sale – and do nothing else. The vast majority of voters in gun-friendly Washington want this to happen. Why in heaven’s name are the Legislature’s leaders not fast-tracking this bill to the governor’s desk?