Firearms issues gain House attention; Senate ignores a host of related bills

By Zoey Palmer
WNPA Olympia News Bureau

Four firearms-related bills are expected to continue moving through the House of Representatives this session after receiving committee confirmation before the policy-bill cut-off date last week.

A host of Senate bills were introduced, but none advanced in that chamber.

Those that made it past the deadline include a controversial background-check requirement for private gun sales; a database for gun-related crime offenders; requiring those served with restraining orders to surrender their guns and a waiver for background checks on concealed-pistol license (CPL) holders and police officers.

Background checks for all gun sales

A proposal that would require private gun-sales to be subject to a background check similar to existing requirements for licensed gun dealers was narrowly passed out of committee in an executive session Feb. 19 in a 7-6 vote.

HB 1588, sponsored by Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-43rd District, Seattle), contains exemptions for some antique or rare firearms and buyers who have a state-issued CPL.

The proposal's public hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 13 drew about 100 citizens, who packed two hearing rooms in the John L. O'Brien Building at the state capital.

The bill, which is supported by members of several law-enforcement organizations as well as gun-control advocates, was criticized by gun-rights supporters for restricting gun ownership and inconveniencing law-abiding gun buyers and sellers.

The bill's next step is the House Rules Committee where. If approved it would head to the House floor, where there is a Democratic majority. It and other gun-control bills moving through the House are likely to have a difficult journey in the Senate, however, where two Democrats – Sens. Rodney Tom (D-48th DIstrict, Medina) and Tim Sheldon (D-35th District, Potlatch) – have joined Senate Republicans to form a de facto Republican majority.

Gun-offender registry

Those guilty of a gun crime may have to register with an offender database. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Hope (R-44th District, Lake Stevens), would create a state registry of gun offenders for use by police.

Hope, who is also a Seattle police officer, said the registry would help police be more aware of those likely to commit gun violence.

"When somebody commits homicide with a gun, they've typically and usually had a prior gun offense," explained Hope.

The database would not be public and would be managed by the Washington State Patrol. The requirement to register or not would be decided by the judge of each criminal case.

Some who testified at the hearing raised concerns about whether the database would really stay private and not be subject to public-information requests as is Washington's sex-offender and kidnapper database.

The bill, HB 1612, was passed out of committee in a 12-1 vote on Feb. 21.

Restraining order? Hand over your guns

Those served with certain restraining, no-contact or protection orders would be required to surrender their guns to law enforcement while the order is in place under HB 1840, sponsored by Rep. Roger Goodman (D-45th District, Kirkland).

The bill would make it illegal to possess a gun or CPL while under a restraining order and determined by the court to be a threat to a significant other, whether current or former, or a child. The court would order the person served to relinquish any guns he or she owns to police within five days. The firearms would be returned when the order is lifted.

The measure was passed out of committee Feb. 21 in a 10-3 vote.

No background checks for CPLs or cops

A bill also sponsored by Goodman would drop the requirement for a state background check when an active police officer or state concealed-pistol license-holder purchases a handgun from a dealer.

In 2011, the Legislature passed a law intended to bring Washington's CPL requirements up to federal standards, so it would qualify as a substitute for a federal background check. The law, however, didn't address state gun transfer laws that required a state background check in addition to a federal one. Goodman says he seeks to address that with this bill, HB 1839.

Under the bill, a valid CPL issued on or after July 22, 2011 (the date Washington's CPLs were federally approved) could waive the requirement for both a federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) check as well as a state background check conducted by police. A CPL issued after that date would be subject to a NICS check but not the state background check.

The proposal was passed out of committee in a unanimous vote Feb. 21.

Cut-off casualties

Bills that did not gain committee approval by the policy cut-off date include:

• SB 5737 would outlaw assault weapons, magazines with more than 10 rounds, conversion kits and certain accessories such as silencers. Sponsored by Sen. Ed Murray (D-43rd District, Seattle).

• HB 1676 would criminalize allowing a child younger than 16 unsupervised access to an unsecured, loaded gun. Gun dealers would be required to offer to give or sell a gun lockbox or lock when a gun is purchased. Sponsored by Rep. Ruth Kagi (D-32nd District, Shoreline).

• SB 5710 is similar to HB 1676 but sets the age at 14 and does not include the provisions for gun dealers. Sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36th District, Seattle).

• SB 5485 would make negligently leaving a gun in a place or vehicle where an unsupervised child can get it a misdemeanor. If a child gains access and uses the gun to hurt him or herself or another, it would be a felony. Sponsored by Sen. Adam Kline (D-37th District, Seattle).

• HB 1788 would allow schools to permit certain employees to carry guns at school. Such employees would be required to have a current CPL and undergo firearms training. Sponsored by Rep. Liz Pike (R-18th District, Camas).

• SB 5479 would establish procedures for guns to be voluntarily given to law enforcement for temporary safekeeping, up to 30 days, either by the owner or a family member, friend or therapist who has written permission from the owner. If not picked up after 90 days, the gun would be disposed of. Sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser (D-33rd District, Kent).

• HB 1147 would increase penalties for repeat unlawful possession offenders, raising the charge from second degree to first degree after the first offense, which would extend the sentence from less than eight months to up to 27 months. Sponsored by Rep. Roger Goodman (D-45th District, Kirkland).

• HB 1729 would criminalize gun-ownership by street-gang members. Sponsored by Rep. Judy Warnick (R-13th District, Moses Lake).

Any bill that isn't fiscally-related and didn't receive the approval of its committee by the cut-off is likely dead for this session. If determined to have fiscal impact, bills that missed the policy deadline may be referred to a different committee and resume the legislative process.

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