Monroe, other gun shows under greater scrutiny

In the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., gun shows like those regularly held at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe are coming under increasing scrutiny.

Calls for background checks on all gun sales, including gun shows and private sales, are among the recommendations that President Barack Obama made last week to try to curb gun violence.

But some gun owners and gun groups said they feel as if they’re being unfairly portrayed in the national debate, fueled by mass shootings such as the 12 people fatally shot at a theater in Colorado last summer and the 20 children and six adults killed Sandy Hook Elementary School in December.

“The ones that are upset the most are those that use firearms respectfully,” said Larry Simoneaux, of Edmonds, a gun owner who writes a column on the editorial page for The Herald. “We’re painted with this big brush.”

Simoneaux said his guns are kept in locked in a safe. A stainless steel cable runs through every trigger guard.

He and other local gun owners say they’re searching for solutions, steps that can have an impact on a problem that has fanned a seemingly intractable political confrontation — the constitutional right to bear arms against the right of children and adults to go about their everyday activities with a reasonable assurance of safety.

In a column last month, Simoneaux said he was disappointed by the NRA’s reaction to the killing of the Connecticut schoolchildren. Instead, he said he hoped that the organization would put its influence and expertise into trying to find solutions to the nation’s mass killings.

Simoneaux said he feels there are a number of issues that contribute to the shootings, including the content of video games.

“How does a kid spend seven hours a day maiming and killing on a video game and not be affected?” he asked.

Simoneaux said he’d like to see the same ongoing attention now focused on guns put into helping treat people with mental illness. It shouldn’t fall from attention in Olympia with the political shrug of “we’ll fund that mental health thing next session,” he said.

Guns get all the attention, Simoneaux said. “I understand it. It’s an easy visual. A mentally sick kid isn’t a good visual.”

Joe Waldron, legislative chairman of 15,000-member Washington Arms Collectors, bristles at the perception that gun shows sponsored by his group are the epitome of the wild, wild West.

The two dozen gun shows the group sponsors each year in Washington, including those in Monroe, constitute just under half of all guns shows in the state, he said.

“We’re a closed club,” Waldron said. “To transfer firearms, you must be a member.”

The group requires background checks for anyone who wants to join. If someone walks into a show and wants to join, they pay $12 for criminal background checks conducted through a Washington State Patrol database. “We’re the only organization in the state that does that,” Waldron said.

The group has discussed increasing the background check from more than a one-and-done to perhaps every other year or annually, he said.

Some members have concealed pistol permits, Waldron said. Those permits, requested through local police departments, have background checks conducted through a federal database. Such requests can be rejected for convictions of serious crimes such as robberies and domestic violence.

If his organization had access to that same federal database, it would allow the organization to run background checks on its members every year, Waldron said. But it would take a change in federal law for that to happen.

However, there’s no guarantee of background checks for sales between individuals and those at other gun shows, the legal loophole that Obama’s proposal seeks to close.

Waldron said he could support more comprehensive background checks for gun purchases with conditions.

Here’s where he draws the line: Information gathered in the background checks must not be kept on file. “The gun lobby opposes registration or pseudo-registration of firearms,” he said.

While the request for Congress to approve more comprehensive background checks for gun purchases is expected to face stiff opposition, some states already have taken action.

Since 1991, California has prohibited gun sales without a background check. Private sales must take place through a gun shop, where a background check is conducted, said Lindsay Nichols, an attorney at the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

The law also has a provision to keep people with serious mental illness from legally obtaining a gun, she said. This occurs when someone who makes a serious threat of violence against a specific person in the presence of a licensed psychotherapist. The psychotherapist is required to report that person to the state. The patient’s name goes into a state database for six months, she said.

Anyone placed on the list can go to court to request that their name be removed so they can obtain a gun, she said.

The law is carefully circumscribed to prevent the most dangerous people from possessing guns, Nichols said.

Art Huffine of Oak Harbor, a retired general contractor who previously served in the Navy, said he’s concerned that the NRA is trying to turn the current gun debate into a false choice between making all guns legal without restraints or confiscating all guns.

“That’s not the choice,” he said. Huffine said he would like to see a “well-reasoned, moderate, sane approach” to gun control.

Some in the NRA thinks it’s their right to own any gun they want, he said, while many gun owners support responsible gun ownership.

“Where do we set the limit on weapons covered in the Second Amendment is a legitimate discussion that needs to be had,” he said.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

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