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Originally published March 5, 2013 at 8:56 PM | Page modified March 5, 2013 at 8:56 PM

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Prospects dim for deal on universal background checks for gun purchases

A key lawmaker said Tuesday that supporters of universal background checks are unlikely to reach a deal with an influential Second Amendment activist whose support was once seen as important.

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

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OLYMPIA — Negotiations between supporters and opponents of universal background checks have stalled, making it less likely that gun-control advocates will achieve their top legislative priority this session.

House Judiciary Chairman Jamie Pedersen said Tuesday that he and other supporters are moving on from a compromise offered by influential gun-rights activist Alan Gottlieb that had been seen as key to the proposal’s prospects.

Gottlieb’s support would help the bill, Pedersen said, but the activist’s request for lawmakers to end a de facto database of handgun owners was ultimately too much for law enforcement to swallow.

“We are continuing to look for support for this common-sense gun-control measure,” said Pedersen, D-Seattle. But “there’s no question” that challenge is now harder, he said.

With a floor vote expected next week, Pedersen said House Bill 1588 is still a few votes shy of what it needs for passage.

The challenge is harder in the Republican-controlled Senate, where leaders say the proposal is unlikely to get a vote.

The bill would require background checks for all gun purchases; currently, they are required for sales by licensed dealers but not for purchases from private sellers.

Supporters see the checks as a way to increase safety by making it harder for criminals to obtain weapons. Opponents see the checks as an ineffective and unconstitutional burden on law-abiding gun owners.

Gottlieb, of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said last month he would support the bill if state lawmakers agreed to end the de facto database, a collection of transactions by licensed gun dealers.

Pedersen initially thought he could take the deal because he didn’t know of any use for the database.

But it turns out that law enforcement uses it thousands of times a month, including to track down the last buyer of guns found at crime scenes, said Don Pierce, a lobbyist for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

“Any amendment that would eliminate that database moves the bar in the wrong direction,” Pierce said.

Pedersen said he will not push a version of the bill without law-enforcement support.

The developments on the Gottlieb negotiations come as a nonpartisan poll found broad support in the state for universal background checks.

An Elway Poll of 412 registered voters found that 79 percent support the idea. The telephone poll, conducted Feb. 28 to March 2, had a margin of error of 5 percentage points, plus or minus.

Supporters cited the findings as evidence the Legislature should approve the checks quickly.

But opponents questioned the results.

“That’s funny,” said Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. “My email is 90 to 10 against it.”

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

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