Background check bill fails in House

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OLYMPIA — A contentious proposal to expand background checks on Washington state gun sales failed Tuesday in the state House, where supporters said they were just a handful of votes short.

In a final effort to pick up a few extra votes, Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, had proposed a referendum clause that would have allowed the public to vote on the measure. He initially believed that would draw enough support to corral the 50 votes needed to pass the bill but conceded Tuesday night others had dropped their backing because of that shift.

“It was too big of a stretch for this year,” Pedersen said.

Pedersen said he was disappointed by the result, and several Democrats departing for the night were emotional about the collapse of a bill they’d spent two days intensely working to finalize.

The week had included lobbying from former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona Democrat who was wounded in a January 2011 mass shooting, and Gov. Jay Inslee.

After years of seeking expanded background checks, supporters of gun control had seen this year as the greatest chance for major changes in state law, with the public still reeling from the December massacre of children at a Connecticut elementary school.

The National Rifle Association, however, led a broad campaign in the state to block the bill, with opponents of the measure saying it wouldn’t stop gun violence and arguing that it was the first step to a registry of gun owners, which opponents consider as an unconstitutional overreach.

Gun buyers currently must undergo a background check when they purchase a weapon from a federally licensed firearms dealer. Pedersen’s proposal, crafted in conjunction with Republican Rep. Mike Hope, would have extended such reviews to cover private gun transactions.

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