In Our View: The Issue That Won't Go Away

Reasonable gun-control measures will be presented again

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Although the Washington Legislature will continue with a special session, one fact already is known about this year’s efforts: 2013 will be remembered as the year our lawmakers did nothing in response to gun violence.

But we doubt the wave of public concern will wither anytime soon. Any legislators who hope they will no longer be held accountable on this issue are engaged in fantasy. Just as the refusal by Congress to act has triggered massive resolve to revisit the gun-violence issue later, Washington state also can be expected to resurrect this debate in the next legislative session.

Granted, polls are not in themselves decisive, but in this case they are more than just indicative. An Elway Poll this year showed 79 percent support in Washington for universal background checks for firearms buyers. Another survey — commissioned by the gun-control advocacy group Washington Ceasefire and conducted by Alison Peters Consulting — showed 87 percent support among 600 randomly selected registered voters for requiring background checks at gun shows. Three-fourths of the poll participants favored tighter gun laws in general.

None of that conventional wisdom, though, was reflected in the legislative fate of House Bill 1588, which would have expanded background checks on gun sales. The bill never came to a vote in the House because the votes just weren’t there. That’s too bad, because even if the bill’s failure was certain, it would’ve been instructive to at least identify the state representatives who sealed its doom.

As The Seattle Times editorialized: “A tally should be public, either in a floor vote or a letter circulated among lawmakers. … But if the Legislature is unable to lead, the new Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility has a ripe issue to advance via initiative. Voters seem ready.” Therein lies a promising strategy for a public that grows increasingly aggravated with legislative intransigence, and organizers plan to announce just such an initiative campaign today.

As for the national ire that still simmers over Congress’ unwillingness to enact reasonable gun-control measures, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne last week wrote that the “early evidence is that rage over the cowardly capitulation of so many senators to raw political power is pushing activists against gun violence to redouble their efforts.”

So, no, this issue isn’t going away. Gabrielle Giffords won’t let it. The former member of Congress was quoted by Dionne: “I’m furious. (Senators) looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.”

An auxiliary culprit here is the blasted filibuster. The bill expanding background checks actually drew a 54-46 tally in favor, but the filibuster mandated 60 approval votes. Furthermore, Dionne reported that “the ‘yes’ votes … came from lawmakers representing 63 percent of the population. How can our democracy thrive when a willful minority can keep dictating to the rest of the country?”

The answer is simple. Democracy will thrive because people have long memories, and when so many feel so strongly about a topic, they aren’t likely to just hush up and go away.