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Originally published March 8, 2013 at 9:44 PM | Page modified March 8, 2013 at 9:44 PM

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Lobbying intense for bill on gun limits

Gun-control advocates are launching a weekend lobbying blitz of seven members of the state House who may control the fate of a contentious bill to require background checks for all gun purchases.

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

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OLYMPIA — Gun-control advocates are launching a weekend lobbying blitz on seven members of the state House who may control the fate of a contentious bill to require background checks for all gun purchases.

State Rep. Jamie Pedersen, a Seattle Democrat organizing the push for universal background checks, said Friday that his bill now has 47 supporters — 46 Democrats and Lake Stevens Republican Mike Hope.

It needs 50 to pass.

The vote is expected Monday or Tuesday. A key legislative session cutoff looms Wednesday.

Until then, the seven lawmakers — three Democrats and four Republicans, mostly from suburban districts, Pedersen said — will be hearing from lobbyists and constituents organized by the newly formed Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, which supports the bill, and the National Rifle Association (NRA), which opposes it.

The alliance has paid for district-by-district polling showing that majorities of the legislators’ constituents support the bill, said Pedersen and Christian Sinderman, a spokesman for the group.

The NRA’s campaign, as in past battles, has included urging its many members via email and regular mail to contact lawmakers and voice their opposition.

NRA officials didn’t return phone calls Friday seeking comment.

If the bill were to pass the House, it would move to a Senate controlled by Republicans whose leaders oppose the legislation. But Democrats say they think they have the votes to pass the measure through a procedural move.

For now, all eyes are on the House.

Interviewed on Friday, several of the key lawmakers in the House said they’ve heard from many more constituents opposing the bill than those supporting it.

Rep. David Sawyer, a first-term Democrat from Tacoma, said it has been “about four versus more than 100.”

He said he’s against the bill.

But Pedersen said Sawyer and others could be convinced by data showing that a quiet majority of constituents support it.

Sawyer’s seatmate, NRA member Steve Kirby, voted against the bill in committee. But Kirby said he is considering supporting the proposal on the floor.

“I’ll just have to see how things are going on that particular day,” Kirby said. “There’s like a one-second moment, when you can either press the green button or the red button.”

House Bill 1588 has been one of the most closely watched proposals this session.

The bill, a response to the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school in December, would end a so-called “loophole” in state law that allows sales by private, unlicensed gun owners without conducting a background check on the buyer.

Licensed dealers already must conduct the checks.

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

Proponents have repeatedly tried to change the bill to attract support, but a potential deal between supporters and an influential gun-rights activist broke down earlier this week.

Supporters said they are still making changes, including one Friday to ensure the support of the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs — a critical endorsement because it persuaded a previously undecided lawmaker to back the bill, Pedersen said.

That change would exempt law-enforcement
officers from having to undergo background checks.

Supporters have also lost a few votes.

Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, who initially co-sponsored the bill, has since decided to vote against it.

Walsh said she changed her mind after hearing from an overwhelming number of constituents who convinced her the expanded background checks wouldn’t reduce crime.

The constituents contacted Walsh after the NRA sent out a mailer, she said.

Hope, a Seattle police officer, has also been the subject of NRA mailers this winter. But he said Friday that “the more the debate goes on, the more I believe in what I’m doing.”

Hope said he believes a handful of Republicans from suburban areas will ultimately join him in supporting the measure.

One Republican, state Rep. Linda Kochmar, of Federal Way, said in an interview that she is leaning toward supporting the bill.

“I fully believe in the Second Amendment, but our top priority needs to be children’s safety,” said Kochmar, one of the seven key lawmakers.

Pedersen said he is confident he can get at least two votes of the three he needs.

Can he get the third?

Pedersen paused.

“I’d bet a quarter on it.”

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

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