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The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

March 12, 2013 at 11:27 AM

Universal background checks for gun purchases could go to voters

OLYMPIA — Supporters of a bill to require background checks for all gun sales added a referendum clause to the proposal Tuesday morning in a last-minute bid to gain support in the state House.

Bill sponsor Jamie Pedersen said he believes he has the votes to pass House Bill 1588 this afternoon with the clause, which will require that the issue go to voters in November.

“We worked really hard, but we could not get to 50 votes without a referendum clause,” said Pedersen, D-Seattle, acknowledging that any referendum campaign would be expensive.

A vote has been tentatively scheduled for early this afternoon, following a 1 p.m. caucus. Republicans plan to block the bill, including by offering several amendments.

The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, a new group funded by Nick Hanauer, is expected to run the campaign in support of the expanded checks — if the bill passes the House and Senate.

The Alliance has hired Zach Silk as its campaign manager. Silk ran last year’s successful referendum to legalize gay marriage.

Currently, background checks are required for sales by licensed dealers but not for purchases from private, unlicensed sellers. Ending that discrepancy has become a major flashpoint in Washington state and Washington, D.C.

Supporters say it could help curb gun violence, while opponents decry it as ineffective and unconstitutional.

The hope is that the referendum clause will give the proposal enough votes to get it over the top in the state House. As of late Monday night, the proposal was still three votes short despite a late lobbying effort by Gov. Jay Inslee.

“We’re very excited about being able to get an affirmative vote,” said Christian Sinderman, a spokesman for the Alliance.

Sinderman said his group has talked with Pedersen and other lawmakers about the potential referendum.

The tougher fight will be in the Senate. Supporters there say they have the votes, but only if they can get the measure to the floor in a chamber controlled by Republicans who oppose the measure.

If it gets to a referendum, Sinderman said the campaign in favor would “start in a good place.”

A recent Elway Poll found that 79 percent of voters support universal background checks. But gun-control measures have not fared well at the ballot in Washington state in recent years.

A lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, which opposes the bill, and several Republican senators declined to comment until after the vote.

Comments | More in State Legislature | Topics: gun control, Jamie Pedersen, Jay Inslee


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