UPDATE: Gun background checks plan stalls in state House

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OLYMPIA — Supporters of a proposal to expand background checks to private gun sales struggled Monday to secure a final batch of votes that would ensure the bill’s passage.

Just a handful of votes short, supporters delayed their plans to consider the measure Monday afternoon. That came despite an intense lobbying effort that included a call from former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded in a January 2011 shooting.

Giffords made a call Monday to Rep. Maureen Walsh, a Republican from Walla Walla who had initially supported the bill. Walsh said Giffords and an aide to the former congresswoman left her a phone message telling her to “be strong” and “be courageous” in support of the measure.

It didn’t seem to be helping. Walsh recently withdrew her support from the bill, saying she made a “reactionary” mistake in signing on to the measure but now doesn’t think it will help stop gun violence.

“This is really an exercise in futility, in my opinion,” Walsh said of the bill.

Giffords has been working in recent weeks encouraging lawmakers around the country to adopt universal background checks.

Gun buyers currently must undergo a background check if they purchase a weapon from a federally licensed firearms dealer. Those checks are not required for private gun transactions, and supporters say the expansion is necessary to make it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to acquire guns.

Republican Rep. Mike Hope, a Seattle police officer who is one of the architects of the bill, said the delay in voting was a sign of struggles to secure needed votes. He said he doesn’t know of any other Republicans that would vote in favor of the bill.

Rep. Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, seemed relieved Monday that he wouldn’t have to vote on the measure. He did not commit to how he would vote if the measure came up on the floor but said lawmakers should focus on other bills that could reduce gun violence.

“This bill isn’t going to do that,” Kirby said.

House lawmakers face a Wednesday deadline to pass the measure out of their chamber. After that, it would have to go to the Senate. A committee in the Senate that would likely get the bill is stacked with pro-gun lawmakers.