PENINSULA POLL BACKGROUNDER: Peninsula lawmakers split on state gun-control proposal

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

OLYMPIA — A bill introduced in the state House of Representatives last week that would require criminal background checks for all firearm sales in Washington has split support between the 24th District’s two representatives.

HB 1588, co-sponsored by two House Republicans and 22 House Democrats — including Sequim’s Rep. Steve Tharinger, one of the Democrats — would extend the requirement for criminal background checks to all gun sales, not just those by licensed firearm dealers as now currently required by state law.

In a Friday interview, Tharinger said he supports the right to own guns as guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution but said he signed on to HB 1588 because it would provide more documentation on gun-show sales of firearms, sales at which background checks are not required.

“I think it’s a good way not to infringe on the Second Amendment but provide a good sense of who’s buying guns,” Tharinger said.

The bill would require that someone selling a firearm to an unlicensed person — defined in the bill as anyone who is not licensed as a firearms dealer — request a criminal background check of the buyer from the local police or sheriff’s department.

The buyer also would have to complete an application provided by the state Department of Licensing to transfer ownership of the firearm, with the local sheriff or chief of police indicating on the application whether the buyer is legally eligible to own a firearm.

Neither the dealer nor law enforcement agency could impose more than a $20 fee for such a background check, according to the bill, not including any charges imposed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Tharinger said the requirements for gun sales that HB 1588 would impose are similar to selling car, in which a transfer of the car’s title and other paperwork are required.

“It makes sense [that] if we do that for cars, we should do that for guns,” Tharinger said.

Tharinger’s 24th District seatmate in the state House, Sequim Democrat Kevin Van de Wege, said he is not a proponent of so-called universal background checks, adding that he would also be loath to support proposed legislation in the House that would limit the ability of Washington residents to legally own firearms.

“I’m a pro-gun type of person, and I’m not going to vote for any restrictions on guns,” Van de Wege said in a Friday interview.

Van de Wege said he doesn’t think it’s likely that any measures putting more limits on what firearms or related equipment, such as high-capacity ammunition magazines, can be purchased would make it out of their respective House committees, much less survive a full House vote.

“It’s my opinion right now that [gun control is] not something we’re going to tackle, but I could be wrong,” Van de Wege said.

“I think if it happens, it’s going to come from Congress.”

Van de Wege, who along with Tharinger and state Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, represents Clallam and Jefferson counties and a third of Grays Harbor County in the Legislature, said he would prefer that proposed solutions addressing gun violence come in the form of more funding for mental health care rather than additional limits on what types of guns can be bought and who can buy them.

“I think investing in mental health funding is where we need to go with this issue,” Van de Wege said.

“I’m not a fan of limiting the law-abiding, mentally healthy person from owning guns.”

Hargrove said he has not signed on to or introduced any firearms-related bills in the state Senate, but said his stance on the issue is continuing to support evidence-based state programs, such as those that help reduce violence and the number of people in prison by giving juvenile offenders options other than prison and provide treatment for the mentally ill who have committed crimes.

“Those programs need to be defended,” Hargrove said, “as opposed to doing things that are politically flashy but may not have the best evidence behind them.”

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsula
dailynews.com.

Last modified: February 04. 2013 6:27PM
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