The debate on the complicated issue of expanding background checks for gun sales in Washington state has been lively. That’s as it should be.
Much has to be considered — from public safety to personal freedoms — when making substantial changes to background-check laws.
The state Legislature spent a lot of time and energy on the issue over the past four months, but made no decision.
Those opposed to expanding background checks to private gun sales were concerned it would make gun sales between family and friends expensive and unnecessarily difficult. Others were concerned the paperwork on the background checks would be stored and become a de facto register of gun owners.
Now proponents of expanding background checks are considering seeking approval directly from the voters.
Generally, writing law through the legislative process results in a better piece of legislation where opponents had opportunity to air their concerns.
Laws approved through legislative action are usually more polished than those gaining approval through the initiative process.
That is something backers of an initiative to expand background checks must keep in mind as their proposal is written and honed.
The Associated Press reported state Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle and sponsor of the legislation on background checks, said gaining approval of the people would make a statement with broad implications.
“It’s more powerful if the voters do it, as opposed to our doing it,” Pedersen said. “And it would make it easier for the Legislature to do even more.”
Perhaps. Then again, failure would also make a powerful statement, which could paralyze the Legislature on this issue.
We argued against Pedersen’s proposal, HB 1588, as it was being considered by lawmakers. It would have resulted in lousy law, creating unnecessary hassles for those buying and selling guns without making anybody safer.
Pedersen and other proponents of expanding background checks would be wise to make sure this proposal is extremely well vetted.
The issue of gun ownership is a very serious one. Taking a proposal too far (or not far enough) can have unintended consequences. When gun ownership is involved it could have constitutional ramifications and safety concerns.