Gun rights discussion starts in Olympia with former Congresswoman Giffords testifying

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Gabrielle Giffords, right, is helped to her chair by her husband, Mark Kelly, before testifying on Initiative 594 before the House Judiciary Committee on Jan. 28.

OLYMPIA - A voter decision this coming November seems to be the only direction that the gun debate in Washington is heading.

Lawmakers this week held hearings on two gun-related initiatives that drew hundreds of people with strong views both for and against – including former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who three years ago was injured in a gun attack.

Both the Washington State Senate and House majorities are divided on the issue, so there’s little chance the legislature will actually vote on either one. As a result, the two initiatives are likely to go on the fall ballot.

Both initiatives, 594 and 591, were heard at the House Judiciary hearing Tuesday, Jan. 28. I-594 would expand background checks on gun sales and transfers to gun shows and private sales. I-591 would only require a background check if required by federal law.

Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt during a political event in Tucson, Ariz. in January 2011, testified in support of Initiative 594, calling on legislators to “be courageous.”

Currently, all purchasers of firearms from federally licensed firearm dealers must undergo a background check. I-594 would expand that to gun shows and private sales and transfers.

“Stopping gun violence takes courage – the courage to do what’s right, the courage of new ideas,” Giffords said. “Now is the time to come together; Democrats, Republicans, everyone.”

Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly, testified that I-594 wouldn’t infringe upon Second Amendment rights of Washington residents. He said that he and his wife want to protect those rights.

“Gabby’s a gun owner, and I am a gun owner,” Kelly said. “This right should not extend to criminals.”

Some who testified against I-594 said background checks don’t work. Criminals will find other ways to get guns illegally, they said, just like most currently do.

NRA spokesman Brian Judy said the shooters in several high-profile gun attacks, including the one that injured Giffords, had gone through background checks.

“This is just not going to keep guns out of the hands of criminals,” he said.

Kelly said in his testimony that I-594 would not be perfect.

“Some criminals will still get guns,” he said.

During the hearing, the overflow crowd filled the House Gallery in the Legislative building. Supporters of both sides watched the hearing via live video.

The discussion of these two initiatives continued at another public hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 29, in the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

- Rebecca Gourley is an intern for the WNPA Olympia News Service.

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