Gun control advocates are regrouping this week. They’re looking at their options, now that a bill to broaden background checks for gun sales failed in the Washington Legislature. They want to seize a moment when they believe public sentiment is on their side.
Members of Washington Ceasefire, the Faith Action Network, and other groups held a meeting at the First United Methodist Church in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood Thursday. They say their polling demonstrates that most Washington residents support universal background checks for gun purchases, but their supporters were late in the game when it came to contacting state legislators.
Reverend Sandy Brown is the pastor at First Methodist and a member of the new Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility. He said the alliance is debating whether to mount a ballot initiative in this fall’s election. Some Democrats oppose a ballot measure this year because it’s an off-year election when turnout is expected to be low. But Brown says it’s a tough decision because gun control is in the public eye. “The challenge is that the emotions are running high about this right now. So we want to be able to ride the tide of public sentiment that is so unanimous about this.”
Perhaps not unanimous, but Brown says a new Elway Poll finds that 79 percent of state voters support universal background checks. A January 2013 poll for Washington Ceasefire by Alison Peters Consulting found that 87 percent of Washington voters supported the change.
One of their next priorities, Brown said, is to do more polling to fine-tune the language around potential ballot measures. He said his group will try to learn from the success of last year’s initiatives legalizing same-sex marriage and marijuana.
The alliance is also looking at going back to the Legislature with other proposals, to limit the number of guns or the amount of ammunition purchased at one time. He said they want to develop a coalition that can contact legislators as quickly and vigorously as their opponents did.
Brown said he has a personal tie to the issue of universal background checks; two years ago he sought a protection order against a woman who is accused of stalking him. “She is somebody that came and visited our church, and pretty soon I was getting love letters and she was showing up at night at my house and it became about our personal safety.”
Brown said police informed him that in the past, the woman had tried to buy a gun but was prevented when the background check revealed her criminal history. However, right now someone can avoid the background check by purchasing a gun from a private citizen or at a gun show. Members of the National Rifle Association opposed changing the law. They told legislators more background checks would be a burden on law-abiding gun owners.
Brown said since he began advocating for gun control, he’s had some phone calls requesting his church’s tax records. Churches can have their tax-exempt status questioned if leaders actively support political candidates. But Brown said clergy are well within the law when they advocate on policy issues.