Rep. Jamie Pedersen Talks of His Crushing Disappointment That His Gun Checks Bill Failed, and Which 6 Dems Doomed the Measure

Rep. Jamie Pedersen gave it his best shot.
Rep. Jamie Pedersen knew from the get-go that it would be an uphill battle, but still, there was hope, he said, that somehow House Democrats could cobble together 50 votes to require background checks for all guns sales.

But in the bitter end, House Bill 1588 came up three votes short, despite an extraordinary full-court press waged by Speaker Frank Chopp, Gov. Jay Inslee -- and even calls to target legislators from Gabby Giffords, whose astronaut husband, Mark Kelly, recently bought an assault rifle at a Arizona gun store to show the cursory nature of most background checks.

"Chopp worked liked a dog. He was crushed that we couldn't get there," Pedersen, the prime sponsor, told Seattle Weekly in an interview yesterday afternoon. "It's the most disappointed I've ever seen him"

If there is a ray of sunshine, it's that at least the gun-control measure to expand background checks to private gun sellers got closer than ever before.

Speaker Frank Chopp "worked like a dog" to pass the background check bill.
"Yes, it's been quite a disappointment, but this kind of thing has never even gotten out of committee," noted the Seattle Democrat.

From the outset, Pedersen figured he'd need three Republican votes. All he got was Rep. Mike Hope of Snohomish County, who Pedersen called "courageous."

Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, was on board for a time. In fact, she was an original co-sponsor, but was unable to weather the enormous pressures put on her by gun-rights activists, including the NRA.

"I knew we couldn't get Walsh," Pedersen added. "That vote was too tough for her, what with the district she's in. But I did think Linda Kochmar (R-Federal Way) was possible, and she should have been for it, and I think this is going to hurt her in 2014."

A Yale law graduate who was elected to the House in 2006, Pedersen said he and Speaker Chopp were able to get all the Democrats that "were gettable," which basically left six Democrats -- most of them hailing from either heavily Democrat, though conservative districts, or tough-to-hold swing districts -- who would not and could not be budged.

They are:

Reps Brian Blake and Dean Takko, who represent southwest Washington's 19th District; Kevin Van De Wege, whose 24th District encompasses much of the Olympic Peninsula; 31st District Rep. Christopher Hurst of Snohomish County, Kathy Haigh, whose 35th District is centered in Shelton; and 17th District Rep. Monica Stonier of Vancouver.

On Tuesday, which turned into a very intense day of politicking, negotiating and vote counting, Pedersen hoped the addition of a referendum clause, to put the issue on the ballot in November, might persuade some of the less dug-in gun-right advocates on both sides of the aisle to reconsider their opposition.

That effort backfired, and actually caused some gun-check supporters to argue that it would be terribly unwise to run a referendum on an off-year, low turnout election.

Also, said Pedersen, "Some said it would be too risky to put it on the ballot, because if it lost, we (the Legislature) might never take the issue up again."

The central argument against the bill was probably best summarized by Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, who said, "There were a lot of concerns from people that we were going to criminalize law-abiding citizens."

Said Pedersen: "I think it came down to the feeling that it would place a significant imposition of people's rights and not enough benefits [such as guarantees it would in fact reduce gun violence] to justify it."

On Tuesday night, after it looked like the bill was off the table, the House Democratic Caucus gave Pedersen a loud ovation.

Meanwhile, Democratic consultant Christian Sinderman conceded yesterday that the defeat of the gun-control bill as well as the fall-back amendment to put it on the ballot took some of the the wind out of the sails of the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility.

The Alliance, funded by venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, is a new activist group, of which Sinderman is advising, who intend to launch a public campaign to pressure lawmakers to pass gun-control legislation. Mandating background checks is priority No. 1.

As to the defeat, Sinderman said, "When you have one narrow interest group defining the debate, it's difficult to turn that around...We're going to stay engaged."

RIP, House Bill 1588.

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