State Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-43, Capitol Hill) just held a glum press conference in Olympia where he conceded that he couldn't get to the magical 50 votes to pass a universal background check bill for gun sales. (Currently private gun sales, including at gun shows, don't require criminal background checks.)
Pedersen's last-minute move to attach a referendum clause to the bill (which would have automatically put the law to voters) gave the legislation a second chance after it looked dead last week.
But tonight Pedersen told reporters that the referendum idea eventually turned off as many legislators as it attracted. Some of his Democratic caucus colleagues, he said, thought putting such a major issue to voters during an off-year election was risky. He also said some of his colleagues didn't like the precedent that punting the issue to the public would set for other tough votes legislators have to take later this session.
"Gun rights supporters were more intense in their engagement with the legislature" and "created a sense of distrust and skepticism that those numbers were true."A recent Elway Poll showed major support for a universal background check bill (79 percent in favor), but Pedersen said "gun rights supporters were more intense in their engagement with the legislature" and "created a sense of distrust and skepticism that those numbers were true."
He added that legislators pay more attention to constituent emails and phone calls than to polls and said skeptical legislators believed their districts didn't match up with the polling.
"I don't expect to get the bill passed. It's too big of a stretch this year.""Never say never, but I don't expect to get the bill passed. It's too big of a stretch this year," Pedersen said.
Pedersen then thanked Gov. Inslee, who had enlisted the aid of his former U.S. House colleague Gabby Giffords, to lobby for the bill. "He [Inslee] turned one member who was quite skeptical into a yes."
Pedersen also thanked House Speaker Rep. Frank Chopp (D-43, Wallingford) for "putting a huge amount of energy into the bill."
He concluded: "He and I are really disappointed."
Chopp has long honored the anti-gun control faction in the Democratic caucus to preserve "One Washington" unity, putting the kibosh on the issue for years. This year, during the last 24 hours, he reportedly went to the mat for Pedersen.
Will the skepticism about the polling numbers among conservatives ever get put to the test with an initiative?
We may not know any time soon. Asked if Nick Hanauer, the rich Democratic donor who was waiting in the wings to get behind Pedersen's referendum plan, would still go ahead and back a initiative, Christian Sinderman, the spokesman for Hanauer's new group, Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, said, "Is Nick going to fund an initiative? No." However, Sinderman did say "everything's on the table."
He added: "We'll reassess our options once we get more clarity and come up with a plan, concluding, "this is a stark reminder that for too long one special interest has dominated the debate on this issue. Despite overwhelming public support, it's hard to get a vote. Frankly, we're not totally surprised."
Perhaps Pedersen shouldn't be either. At the very beginning of the session, when we did a Cola "One Question" with Pedersen about gun control (he's the chair of the house judiciary committee), he told us there wasn't support for a background check bill, and he didn't plan on proposing one.
However, three weeks into the session, sensing what he thought was a "shift" in mood, he decided to go for it.