Updated Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 11:16 PM
OLYMPIA — A state House panel Wednesday took up a universal background-check proposal, a major sticking point in discussions about how to reduce gun violence.
House Bill 1588, proposed mostly by Democrats, would require background checks for all firearm purchases. Currently, licensed dealers are required to do the checks, but private sellers are not.
Supporters say the bill — if it clears the Democratic-controlled House and a GOP-run Senate — would reduce the likelihood of mass shootings like the recent one in Connecticut.
“This is a small step that we can, and I believe we should, take that will move us toward a society that will be safer,” said Rep. Jamie Pedersen, a Seattle Democrat who sponsored the bill and chairs the House Judiciary Committee. He noted that 40 percent of gun sales nationally are done privately.
Pedersen announced at the hearing he had scaled back the bill by exempting concealed-pistol license holders from the checks and requiring the conducting agencies to destroy records of the background search.
The changes, he said, were to address concerns that records of the checks would create a de facto registry of gun owners. Currently, federal background-check results are destroyed within 24 hours.
But in the contentious two-hour hearing, a couple dozen gun owners and Second Amendment activists described the bill as ineffective, unnecessary and unfair.
“Ninety-nine percent of gun owners are law-abiding citizens, and those are the ones who will be affected by this,” said Brian Judy of the National Rifle Association. “This is a misdirected program. It’s not going to work.”
Law-enforcement officials and religious leaders, meanwhile, said the additional checks would save lives.
Seattle Deputy Police Chief Nick Metz said many violent crimes are committed by people who obtained guns illegally. Cheryl Stumbo, who survived a 2006 shooting at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, urged lawmakers to take action.
The tension boiled over into two witness-versus-lawmaker arguments:
The Rev. Sanford Brown, of Seattle, and state Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, traded Bible verses to support their points (Brown in favor, Shea against).
And Vancouver resident Wayde Hager accused state Rep. Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens, of citing incorrect statistics to support the bill.
Hope, a Seattle police officer with a top grade from the NRA, is one of two House Republicans supporting the proposal — which Hager said was akin to throwing gun owners “under the bus.”
Despite little Republican support, Pedersen said he is confident the bill will clear his committee.
He said he’s received hundreds of messages about the bill, and that his changes should satisfy most of the complaints.
But House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, said the amended version still has “so many problems.”
Senate leaders declined to say whether a similar bill would get a hearing in the Senate.
Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, called the idea “highly divisive.”
Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee supports the measure.
Brian M. Rosenthal: 360-236-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal