A people’s vote on firearms

An absence of courage and a malleable Legislature hang together. House Bill 1588, a commonsense measure to address gun violence, is a forehead-pounding illustration.

The public safety proposal was — past tense underlined — an elementary attempt to require criminal background checks for gun purchases. Repeat: Weeding out felons who troll gun shows to cop firearms. But cry “gun,” and let loose the dogs of the National Rifle Association. (Infuriating because nothing could be more law and order than enforcing law and order.)

Rep. Mike Hope, a Lake Stevens Republican and Seattle police officer, was HB 1588’s sponsor. Hope exhibited backbone and judgment, and never yielded to the NRA’s propaganda fusillade. He also never caved to internal pressure from his Republican caucus, embracing principle over party.

Last month Hope said. “I want to know that I did my best to make it legally impossible for a dangerous felon to purchase a gun. I am reasonable, so I understand that this won’t stop every criminal from obtaining a gun. But with this legislation I know, as a lawmaker I have done my best within my abilities and that is my job.”

Someone needs to calligraphy those words and frame it. Washington lawmakers shirked their duty by punting on HB 1588. Did legislators do their best to make it legally impossible for a dangerous felon to purchase a gun? No.

Gun buyers who purchase a weapon from a federally licensed firearms dealer currently undergo a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Under Hope’s bill, that would have been enlarged to cover private gun transactions including those at gun shows.

As The Herald’s Jerry Cornfield reports, exemptions would be provided for people with proper law enforcement credentials or a valid concealed pistol license. And anyone with a penchant for Civil War and other antique firearms would be exempt.

The opposition’s reasoning centers on disproving a negative or demanding more time. Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Clinton, said, “I want to take a step back and take a really thoughtful approach.” An elementary attempt to require criminal background checks for gun purchases is a thoughtful approach. Is more required? Yes. That is why the NRA is laboring to sandbag the sensible, fearing a slippery slope of restrictions. The NRA’s interest and the public interest are mutually exclusive.

Many legislators, like the NRA, are dramatically out of touch with the electorate. Since the Newtown massacre, there has been a sea change on gun violence. HB 1588 should be recast as an initiative. Let the people decide.

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