In a representative Democracy, elected officials can choose either to embody the wishes of their constituents or lead them in a direction of higher calling, or both. In the case of universal background checks for gun sales in Washington, our state lawmakers are doing neither.
A recent Elway Poll showed that 79 percent of Washington state respondents approved of universal background checks. The same poll reported that 71 percent of gun owners also support such a law.
So it’s surprising the Democrat-controlled state House can’t find enough votes to pass House Bill 1588, which would require background checks for all private and public gun sales. The bill would change the current law that requires only licensed firearms dealers to conduct background checks.
Even a telephone call from former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was seriously wounded in a 2011 Arizona shooting, couldn’t persuade those Democrats and Republicans apparently too afraid to take a vote on this popular issue.
We’re puzzled by our lawmakers’ reluctance.
Legislators don’t often like to get ahead of public opinion. We get that. But that’s clearly not the case here. Even 74 percent of 2,703 members of the National Rifle Association support universal background checks, according to an online poll conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Who or what do state lawmakers fear?
The recently formed Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility presented legislators with an open letter signed by 300 community leaders and 30 diverse organizations.
Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick signed the letter. He said, “The time has come to take common-sense steps that protect our families and communities from gun violence.”
Who can oppose the concept of making it more difficult for a criminal or mentally ill person to acquire a gun? Apparently, a majority of the state House.
Of course, passing HB 1588 might only aspire to be a symbolic gesture, because it would eventually have to face the firing squad of Republican Sen. Mike Padden’s Law and Justice Committee. Padden and the Republican majority on the committee recently killed every gun control measure to come within its sights.
That’s a shame because after so many needless tragedies in Washington and elsewhere, the public is ready to end lax restrictions on private gun sales.
In a final effort to pick up a few extra votes, Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, proposed a referendum clause that would have allowed the public to vote on the measure. He believed the referendum clause would supply the votes needed to pass the bill.
We don’t get it. Who or what do state lawmakers fear?