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Originally published February 2, 2013 at 5:02 PM | Page modified February 4, 2013 at 6:26 PM

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Common sense finally enters the gun-rights debate

When even a state legislator with a 100 percent NRA rating calls for common-sense gun controls, maybe the long-frozen gun debate in this country is thawing.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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As politicians go, Mike Hope has been an NRA darling. The three-term state representative was endorsed by the gun-rights group in all his elections, has a 100 percent pro-gun voting rating and a lifetime gun freedom grade of “A.”

His next report card won’t be so shiny.

Last week an urgent alert went out from the National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm to protest a background-check bill in Olympia that it says would be “a massive regulatory scheme” to eventually register and track all firearms.

The bill “clearly overreaches and infringes on our Right to Keep and Bear Arms,” the NRA alert says.

Hope, R-Lake Stevens, is one of its prime sponsors. The NRA ruefully notes that its former ally is “a key Republican” on the state House Judiciary Committee.

“It’s fair to say I’ve undergone a mind transition on this issue,” Hope said when I caught up with him Friday. “The NRA’s going to say what it needs to say. But the fact is, a lot of gun owners support reasonable gun-sales restrictions like this.”

Shifts like this are a huge deal. Not because this bill is likely to pass right now. It isn’t. But the only way there’s ever going to be movement on locked-down gun policy in this country is when gun owners themselves start changing the conversation.

Hope, who also works as a patrol cop in West Seattle, insists he’s as pro-gun-rights as ever. What his bill would do is subject all gun sales to background checks. That means you could no longer buy guns anonymously from private sellers via, say, an ad on Armslist (a sort of Craigslist for guns.)

The point isn’t to bar people from having guns. It’s to put a speed bump in the way of felons, teenagers or anyone else who shouldn’t have one.

“If you are a felon, you already can’t go to a gun shop to get a gun because there’s a background check,” Hope said. “So where do you think they get them?”

Some steal them. But others sometimes buy them on the huge “off-the-grid” private sales market.

Last weekend we saw how unregulated these private sales can be. A city gun buyback attracted an impromptu gun bazaar. Guns changed hands on the streets under Interstate 5 with no ID required, just cash and a handshake. The buyers probably were legit, but who knows?

“Those are exactly the kinds of sales this bill would regulate,” Hope said.

When I wrote about that free-for-allunder I-5 — and said it was insane — many readers called me a nanny-state liberal who hates the Constitution. But I also noticed a shift. More gun owners are willing to say you can have some rules, and your guns, too.

“You’ll be shocked to hear that some of us gun nuts agree with you,” Kirk Moore, 54, phoned to say. He’s a Renton network engineer and “dyed-in-the-wool conservative” who uses his semi-automatic handgun, a CZ 75, mostly for target shooting.

“There are plenty of gun owners who can see we’ve got some problems,” Moore said. “If I want to buy a Bushmaster, that’s fine. But if I want to sell a Bushmaster, why shouldn’t I have to go to a database and check out the buyer to make sure they’re not whacked out or a criminal? That’s just common sense.”

Sure is. Common sense I could bleat here every day, without effect (due to that whole nanny-state liberal thing).

But when a Republican with a 100 percent NRA score says it? Or active gunners like Moore? Seems like ice may be melting in this long-frozen debate.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com

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