On responsible gun ownership

Politics has its own story arc. When it comes to public safety and criminal background checks for firearm sales, Washington just reached its second-act turning point.

Tuesday afternoon, former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, testified before the Washington state House Judiciary Committee on behalf of I-594, an initiative that requires all citizens pass the same background check as they would at a standard gun store. The mission, one that 79 percent of Washingtonians support, is to extend the existing backgrounder to gun shows and online sales where universal checks currently aren’t required.

Giffords, who was critically injured in a gun attack outside a Tucson Safeway in 2011 that left six dead, volunteers with her husband to advance gun safety (both are gun owners, Kelly said.)

“It’s too dangerous to wait,” said Kelly, who spoke of upholding the Western tradition of firearm ownership. The challenge is overcoming a bloviating National Rifle Association, which mutated from a Boys Life/hunting-culture institution into a paranoid, deep-pocketed embarrassment, and its attendant pitting of gun safety and gun rights advocates against each other.

Giffords, still struggling to speak as a result of her brain injury, told members of the committee, “Be bold, be courageous. The nation is counting on you.”

Alas, don’t hold your breath. While the Northwest propels a national conversation on responsible gun ownership, courage and the political class part ways. I-594 is an initiative to the Legislature thanks to 345,000 signatures. While it would be encouraging for the committee to go on the record and take a vote, members are much more likely to send it to the people.

Crooks and wife beaters know how to cop guns, opponents argue. Indeed they do, and Washington makes it very easy. Just race to a gun show or to an unlicensed dealer. I-594 closes that criminal-check loophole and makes it tougher for bad guys. And when purchasers comply, the sale will be exempt from sales tax. The good guys (not to mention the public more broadly) benefit.

I-594 is compelling and airtight, building in reasonable exceptions, including gifts between immediate family members, antique firearms and loaners for hunting.

Universal background checks, while far from perfect, are designed to limit criminals, domestic abusers and those living with mental illness from obtaining a firearm. When voters write act three in the November election, it should make for a satisfying ending.

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