Gun check bill clears key House committee

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OLYMPIA – A bill requiring almost all gun buyers in Washington to undergo a background check passed a key House panel Tuesday and will likely be part of a package of gun laws up for a floor vote in March.

Despite heavy criticism last week from gun-rights activists, the House Judiciary Committee passed the so-called Universal Background Check bill on a 7-6 vote.

It would require buyers in most private firearms sales either to submit to the same background check they would undergo if buying the gun at a licensed dealer or to produce a valid state concealed-pistol license.

Either system would help show that a buyer is not banned from owning a firearm because of a criminal record, mental health problems or a court order. The seller could keep a copy of the background check or the license to prove he or she complied with the law.

Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, the chairman of the committee and sponsor of the bill, said it won’t stop every tragedy but will help prevent sales to people who should not have access to firearms.

Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, said the extra cost of a background check would be a barrier to poor people wanting to buy a gun to protect themselves. The bill allows dealers and law enforcement agencies to charge $20 for the background check; dealers usually charge between $30 and $60, and an amendment may allow them to charge their standard rate.

Shea also said the bill violates the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution.

But Pedersen said current law already requires background checks at gun dealers, and those don’t violate constitutional rights.

A background check isn’t required for the sale of an antique firearm or relic, and if the report doesn’t come back within three days, the transaction can be completed without it.

Pedersen said he expected the background check bill to be part of a package of legislation to reduce gun violence. He said co-sponsors hope to work with gun-rights organizations on amendments that will address some of their concerns before a House vote on the package in mid-March.

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