Tacoma City Council members may have felt a little ambushed by news that the city-owned Tacoma Dome would host a recent gun show. Little wonder: The Dome hadn’t been a gun show venue since 1991.
Alarm bells went off when it became known that the so-called “gun show loophole” would be in effect at the show. Although most of the sellers at the show were federally licensed gun dealers – who are required to conduct background checks before transferring ownership – private sellers were also present. Under existing state law, they are allowed to sell guns without conducting any kind of background check.
Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland and council members Ryan Mello and Victoria Woodards aim to change that – at least in Tacoma. They plan to introduce a resolution this week requiring that future gun shows on property owned or managed by the city require background checks on all firearms sales.
It’s a good move, and the rest of the council should support it.
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Most gun owners are responsible, and the majority of them support common-sense gun laws designed to make it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to obtain firearms. Many licensed gun dealers support universal checks because the loophole can put them at a competitive disadvantage. Several states, including Oregon and California, require background checks on all sales.
Some argue that universal background checks won’t prevent all sales to people with a history of violence. By that same logic, there would be no laws against murder and other violent crimes because they’d be impossible to enforce. The point is to make it harder, if not impossible, for criminals and hotheads to get guns.
There’s precedent locally for the broader background check requirement. The Washington Arms Collector shows held at the Puyallup fairgrounds have long required at least a basic background check on all sales.
Besides sending the right message about gun sales, the city needs to consider its possible liability. If a gun bought at a Dome show through a private seller were to be used in a violent crime, the victim’s family might sue based on the city’s failure to require background checks. Lawsuits have been filed – and won – on flimsier grounds.
The issue will be moot if state voters approve Initiative 594 in November to require background checks on all gun sales, including online purchases. But that might not pass. With the organizer of the recent Dome show planning to book several more such events, the council is right to make it clear now what the rules would be.