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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: Regulate Gun Sales

Public support is clearly expressed for universal background checks

The Columbian
Published: March 6, 2013, 4:00pm

Washington legislators would be wise to listen to constituents — and not just to each other or to lobbyists — when it comes to universal background checks for gun sales in our state. And if the lawmakers tune their ears to ordinary citizens who are randomly selected in state and national polls, they would learn that this really isn’t such a contentious issue after all.

The latest evidence arrived Tuesday morning when the Elway Poll announced that 79 percent of survey respondents support universal background checks for all gun sales, public and private. (Current law requires background checks only on gun sales by licensed dealers.)

And that support held up among respondents who are gun owners; 71 percent of them support the background checks, Seattle-based Elway reported. On a related subject, only 34 percent of Washingtonians who were interviewed agreed that school administrators or teachers should be allowed to carry concealed weapons in schools.

Critics would scoff that the Elway Poll involved only 412 voters who were interviewed, but the 79 percent support for universal background checks resembles what is seen in larger national polls. Earlier this year, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health conducted an online survey of National Rifle Association members, and 74 percent of those who participated (2,703 respondents) supported universal background checks.So the message in the polls is loud and clear. The question remains: Are lawmakers in Olympia listening?

We wonder. House Judiciary Chairman Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said on Tuesday that negotiations appear to have stalled on House Bill 1588, which includes universal background checks on gun sales. According to a Seattle Times story, gun-rights activist Alan Gottlieb offered legislators a compromise: In exchange for his support of HB 1588, they would need to abolish what is essentially a database, a collection of transactions by licensed gun dealers. Law enforcement officials opposed the suggestion because they use the database thousands of times a month for several purposes, including tracking down the last buyer of guns found at crime scenes.

That stalemate has prompted Pedersen to point out that HB 1588 lacks a few votes for passage in the House. And even if that hurdle is cleared, the path becomes even more challenging in the Republican-controlled state Senate, where a companion bill might not even receive a vote.

All of which is more than just frustrating for people who believe gun violence can be reduced — certainly not eliminated — by passing reasonable gun-control legislation. It is also an open defiance of the will of the people, clearly expressed in polls.

Meanwhile, many legislators this year have wandered off on tangents about such wild ideas as arming teachers, when the Elway Poll showed a paltry 34 percent support of such a bill (which recently failed to advance in the Legislature).

We hope the more reasonable idea of universal background checks survives, and even if it dies in Olympia this year, can be resuscitated by solutions-oriented legislators in the future.