Bipartisanship needed for gun legislation

No one in their right mind would point to the U.S. Congress as a model of bipartisanship, from which our state senators could learn a thing or two. But, that could be the case when it comes to legislation targeted at limiting gun violence.

While a bipartisan group of senators in Washington D.C. are closing in on a deal to expand background checks for all firearms sales, Republican state senators on chairman Sen. Mike Padden’s (R-Spokane Valley) Law and Justice Committee spent the day Friday killing every gun-control measure within its sights.

So much for any bipartisanship on that issue. While Republicans and Democrats are working together in other states, our Senate decided to shoot down such legislation.

When Sen. Tim Sheldon of Mason County joined with Republicans to form the coalition – which has allowed conservatives to chair most of the important Senate committees – he indicated his commitment was to the people of the state, not any one party.

Perhaps Senate Republicans believe the people of this state have lost interest in tightening up firearms laws now that about 70 days have passed since 20 children and six adults were murdered in a Connecticut elementary school. Maybe they are right.

Olympian columnist John Dodge reported Sunday that only 40 people showed up for a public meeting in Lacey about gun violence. In the days or weeks after the Newtown school shootings, citizens might have packed the house at such a meeting. As Dodge lamented, “feels like too much apathy and not enough commitment to seize the moment on behalf of change in memory of the young lives snuffed out so horrifically.”

Or, perhaps senate Republicans are waiting to see what gun-control legislation passes the House. That would provide some political shelter for Republican senators who might support stricter gun laws.

By acting on House gun-violence bills, senators can vote in favor of them just once in committee and as little as once on the floor. They can also revise or water down anything the House sends over.

Given the actions of Padden and his cohorts on Friday, House bills that would, for example, expand background checks for private firearms sales are probably dead on arrival in the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

But if some Senate Republicans believe that such a law could prevent a re-enactment of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, and split from the Majority Coalition Caucus, a House bill could still get a vote on the Senate floor.

The really controversial legislation doesn’t usually get action until late in the session, so there’s still time for bipartisanship on gun violence to show its face in the state Senate. Let’s hope so.