OLYMPIA — Supporters of gun control in Washington state are laying the groundwork for an initiative campaign to try and expand the use of background checks if a similar proposal fails to pass Congress.
Christian Sinderman, a political consultant aiding the group Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, said Monday that organizers haven’t decided whether the initiative would take place this year or next year. The group is engaged in discussions and plans to make a decision by the end of this month.
“We’re 100 percent committed to moving forward, unless or until something’s on the president’s desk,” Sinderman said.
Gun buyers must undergo background checks when they purchase a weapon from a federally licensed firearms dealer. A bipartisan effort in the U.S. Senate would expand that to cover transactions at gun shows and the Internet, and lawmakers are expected to begin debating that proposal today.
Washington state lawmakers considered their own bill to expand background checks earlier this year, but the measure failed to get enough votes to pass the state House.
Sinderman said the group hasn’t yet developed wording of the law but plans to use the plan developed in the Washington Legislature as a basis while also looking at actions in other states. He said the group is currently assessing what resources it might have available.
The National Rifle Association had worked earlier this year to try influencing Washington state lawmakers who supported background checks, particularly focusing on Republican Rep. Mike Hope, a Seattle police officer who sponsored the legislation. Brian Judy, a lobbyist for the NRA in Washington state, suggested the NRA would also likely work against the initiative.
“If it’s anything like the legislation, then we will oppose it,” Judy said.
Judy pointed back to Washington state’s 1997 initiative campaign that would have required handgun owners to pass a safety course. He said proponents of that measure had touted broad support early in the process, but voters ultimately rejected the idea by a wide margin.
Supporters of the background checks say criminals and mentally ill people can easily acquire guns at gun shows or through private transactions. Opponents say those people will be able to acquire guns in other ways and background checks simply create an obstacle for law-abiding people.
The U.S. Senate proposal would still exempt transactions such as a sale of a gun between family members from the background check requirement.