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Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - Page updated at 06:30 p.m.

Gun-rights group negotiates with lawmakers on background checks

By Brian M. Rosenthal
Seattle Times Olympia bureau

OLYMPIA — One of Washington state’s largest gun-rights groups is negotiating with lawmakers on a deal that would simultaneously boost a controversial gun-control proposal and remove one of gun owners’ biggest fears.

Alan Gottlieb, of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said Tuesday night he has offered to support mandatory background checks for all firearm purchases if state lawmakers agree to end what some see as a de facto database of handgun owners.

“I need to see the final version, but we’re working with the sponsors of the bill to try to get one that’s workable,” said Gottlieb, who also runs the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation. “If we can accomplish that, it’s a win for all sides.”

The legislation’s prime sponsor, state Rep. Jamie Pedersen, said he is studying the details of Gottlieb’s proposal but believes the two sides are “within striking distance.”

The deal would not go far enough to win over the National Rifle Association, said Pedersen, D-Seattle. But he and fellow sponsor Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens, said Gottlieb’s support could sway enough votes to get the bill approved.

“I think it’s a great compromise,” Hope said. “Absolutely it would be a win-win.”

House Bill 1588 would require a background check for almost all firearm sales. Currently, licensed dealers are required to do the checks but private sellers — including those at gun shows — are not.

The checks are meant to prohibit felons and mentally ill people from obtaining weapons.

Democrats in Washington state and Washington, D.C., have made universal background checks a centerpiece of their proposals to address gun violence in the aftermath of December’s mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut.

But many Republicans believe the checks would be ineffective, unconstitutional and unnecessarily burdensome on law-abiding gun owners.

Thirty-eight state representatives have signed on to the legislation, but Pedersen said the bill does not yet have the 50 votes needed for passage on the House floor.

And Republican leaders in the Senate say they don’t think the bill will even get a floor vote in their chamber.

That’s where Gottlieb comes in.

He said he has been discussing a potential deal with Hope since the two had a “long conversation” immediately after a contentious House Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill last week.

Hope and Pedersen had scaled back the bill before that hearing, including by exempting concealed-pistol license holders from the checks, but Gottlieb and other gun-rights activists still opposed it.

The sponsors believe Gottlieb’s support now would provide political cover for Republicans and conservative Democrats whose votes the bill needs.

The Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms has not backed a background-check proposal in decades, Gottlieb said.

To support it now, Gottlieb is requesting several tweaks, including asking state officials to conduct the checks, not the feds.

But the thing Gottlieb wants most is the elimination of the so-called state gun-owner database, which is actually a loose collection of records from the background checks of handgun purchases already being conducted for licensed dealers.

Records of the checks for purchases of rifles and shotguns are conducted by the federal government and subsequently destroyed. But records from local law-enforcement checks on handgun buyers are kept — and state gun owners have long feared they’ll some day be used by government authorities hoping to take guns from citizens.

“You can’t confiscate guns if you don’t know who has them,” said Gottlieb, explaining why he wants the records destroyed.

Pedersen said he does not think the records are used for anything, and thus he doesn’t have a problem with destroying them. But he said he hasn’t discussed Gottlieb’s offer with law enforcement, fellow lawmakers or others.

Even if the two sides reach an agreement, approval of the bill is not assured.

Two key senators — Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, of Ritzville, Adams County, and Democratic gun-policy lead Adam Kline, of Seattle — said they hadn’t heard of the potential deal and couldn’t comment.

Still, Pedersen said he’s optimistic.

“Now that the bill is out of committee, there probably isn’t going to be more legislative action on it for three weeks,” he said. “During that time, there’s going to be a lot of work behind the scenes.”

Brian M. Rosenthal: 360-236-8267 or On Twitter @brianmrosenthal

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