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Originally published February 26, 2013 at 9:35 PM | Page modified February 27, 2013 at 1:14 PM

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New group organizes to push Legislature for gun control

The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, funded by venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, will launch within the next week a public campaign to pressure lawmakers to enact gun-control measures.

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

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OLYMPIA — A group of Seattle activists funded by venture capitalist Nick Hanauer is about to launch the state’s biggest gun-control campaign in years, participants said Tuesday.

The activists, who have been quietly meeting with lawmakers since late December, are planning to launch a website and public campaign within the next week to apply more pressure.

The first priority of the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility is persuading the Legislature to require background checks for all gun purchases.

“After Sandy Hook, a number of us just hit the wall,” said Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, one of the group’s founders, referring to a shooting at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary in December. “This is an effort to show our legislators that people are coming together and demanding action.”

The fledgling group is focused on reaching out to a wide audience — from faith organizations to parent-teacher associations, said Christian Sinderman, a prominent Democratic consultant who is advising the activists.

Then it will enlist those participants to reach out to their lawmakers, Sinderman said.

The group may consider mass advertising in the future, said Sinderman, who would not say how much money it has at its disposal.

Besides Sinderman, the group has hired a lobbyist and a campaign manager — Zach Silk, who managed last year’s successful effort to legalize gay marriage.

Also involved are former Seattle City Councilmember Tina Podlodowski, Seattle-King County health director David Fleming and Eric Liu, a well-known writer and activist who wrote a book with Hanauer in 2007.

The group is working with Washington CeaseFire, the state’s largest gun-control organization. But CeaseFire board President Ralph Fascitelli said his group is more grass roots.

The idea for the new group came out of a series of conversations at Christmas parties after Sandy Hook, Bagshaw said.

In mid-December, the Seattle City Council amended its annual legislative agenda to include several gun-control measures, including the background-check requirement.

Hanauer, who in 2007 sold a technology firm to Microsoft for $6 billion, gives the group financial muscle. Currently a partner at the Second Avenue Partners venture-capital firm, the Seattle resident co-founded the League of Education Voters and is active in liberal causes. With his wife, he recently donated $25,000 to a Seattle’s gun-buyback program.

Hanauer did not return messages seeking comment.

State Rep. Jamie Pedersen, a Seattle Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said he believes the group can make an impact.

Pedersen, who went to college with Liu, said the new group wants to follow a path similar to the one taken by the Washington United for Marriage campaign to legalize gay marriage.

“I’m not necessarily talking about a $12 million advertising campaign,” Pedersen said. “I’m talking about a long-term, strategic, iterative coalition seeking to frame the debate in a different way.”

The first priority is the background-check proposal.

House Bill 1588, which Pedersen sponsored, would end a provision that allows firearms sales by private, unlicensed dealers to occur without the background check required for sales by licensed dealers.

The proposal cleared the House Judiciary Committee last week, but faces significant challenges in the divided Legislature.

Sponsors say the bill is a few votes short in the full House, and Senate leaders have vowed not even to give it a floor vote.

Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, supports expanded background checks.

Some proponents, including Podlodowski, have publicly suggested taking the issue to the voters.

Participants in the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, however, said it is too early to talk about an initiative campaign.

Staff reporter Andrew Garber contributed to this report.

Brian M. Rosenthal: 360-236-8267 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal

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