Gun Initiative Stands a Chance If It Can Overcome One Big Sticking Point

With a gun background check bill decisively killed in the state House, the issue now likely moves to what Ralph Fascitelli of Washington CeaseFire calls "Plan B:" a voter initiative. Despite the fierce opposition the bill provoked in the legislature, this is not a crazy idea.

To understand why, listen to David Roland, point person on the issue for the libertarian Freedom Foundation, which is a strong supporter of gun rights. While raising objections to other bills, like a proposed ban on assault rifles, he tells Seattle Weekly that the background check bill was "far less of a concern. A lot of gun activists are perfectly happy to see background checks."

Indeed, even the region's most combatative and influential gun activist, Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation, considered supporting the background check bill. Dave Workman, editor of the Foundation publication The GunMag, recalls that he and Gottlieb drove down to Olympia for the hearing last month so that Gottlieb could testify against the bill. But after the hearing, he saw Gottlieb and Rep. Mike Hope, the lone Republican to support the bill, in a corner. "They were having an intense conversation," Workman says.

Afterward, he says Gottlieb told him that Hope had asked what bill supporters could do to make the legislation acceptable to gun activists. Gottlieb had some ideas, the most central of which was to remove a state registry of gun owners compiled from background checks.

The registry is what gun activists "are really worried about," Roland confirms. They may not mind background checks, but they consider a database of their names to be a "significant intrusion."

And they fear a registry is only the first step, Workman adds. He points to the comments of Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley at a Congressional hearing on background checks coinciding with the final days of heated debate in Olympia. "Mass shootings will continue to occur despite universal background checks, and criminals will continue to steal guns and acquire them illegally to circumvent the requirement," Grassley said. "When that happens we will be back again debating whether gun registration is needed, and when registration fails, the next move will be confiscation."

Gun owners aren't the only ones to fear a government registry. Ironically, a proposed registry has long been a sticking point for marijuana activists--usually on the opposite side of the political spectrum from the gun crowd--as various bills on pot have moved through the legislature.

Ultimately, the failure to work that issue out in the background check bill played a large part in its demise. It is sure to resurface if an initiative goes on the ballot.

Workman doesn't discount the possibility that common ground could be found. But even if it isn't, he doesn't dismiss the initiative's chances. "The voting demographics have changed" to become far more liberal since the last time a gun control initiative was put before the voters in 1997, he says. "We're one of two states in the country to legalize marijuana. We have gay marriage. We voted twice for Barack Obama. The voters elected Jay Inslee over Rob McKenna."

Plus, he says, he doesn't know whether the national gun rights lobby "wants to throw a few million dollars into Washington state when there's a lot going on around the country."

That's undoubtedly music to Fascitelli's ears.

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