OLYMPIA — In order to ease the concerns of gun owners, Washington lawmakers seeking to expand background checks for gun sales have made a series of changes to their proposal.
Under a revised bill considered during a committee hearing Wednesday, lawmakers say agencies that conduct background checks would have to destroy records of the search once it’s complete. Opponents of the bill had expressed concern that the transaction records would essentially provide a foundation for a registry of gun owners.
Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said he received hundreds of emails related to the bill. Some were generic emails or form letters, but he said others included reasonable suggestions.
“There are quite a few people who were very thoughtful,” Pedersen said. “Those comments resulted in the changes.”
The new bill also allows private parties to bypass the background check if the buyer already has a concealed pistol license. People involved in a transaction can also skip the background check if a request for such information goes unanswered for three days, responding to concerns that the federal system could be unavailable for periods of time. The new measure also removes a provision that allowed a state agency to request that more detailed information be submitted as part of the background check process.
At its core, the bill is designed to require background checks for private gun transactions. People already have to undergo a background check if they purchase a weapon from a federally licensed firearms dealer, but supporters of the measure are concerned that criminals and mentally ill people can simply seek out a private transaction in order to acquire weapons.
Opponents, however, said criminals will still find ways to get guns.
Despite the changes, Brian Judy, the Washington state liaison for the National Rifle Association, said he still had concerns about the bill. He believes that local law enforcement would be unable to conduct background checks and that gun dealers may lose money on the proposed $20 fee for conducting the checks, essentially freezing private gun transactions.
He argued that it would disproportionately impact law-abiding citizens.
“This is a misdirected program,” Judy said. “It’s not going to work.”
House lawmakers are looking to move ahead with the measure next week. It has support on the committee of Republican Rep. Mike Hope, a Seattle police officer previously supported by the NRA. The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs also supports the idea.
It’s not clear if the measure has the votes to pass in the state Senate, where Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, of Ritzville, indicated that the measure wouldn’t have much support in his caucus.
“I think it’s highly divisive and it’s not broadly supported,” he said.