Activists from both sides of the issue created a line that stretched around the legislative building on Jan. 28 as state lawmakers held a hearing on Initiative 594, which if passed will require background checks on any sale of a firearm in Washington State.
The star of the show was clearly former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who survived a gunshot wound to the head three years ago in an attack that killed six of her constituents and colleagues and injured 11 others.
Her husband, Cmdr. Mark E. Kelly, gave most of the opening testimony before the House Judiciary committee, noting that polls in Washington State show that “79 percent say they support standing background checks on gun purchases.
Kelly said that 5,692 Washingtonians were killed by a gun between 2001 and 2010.
“Too often, gun safety and gun rights are pitted against each other,” he said. “But the truth is this. The thing we can do to promote responsible gun ownership and protect our Second Amendment rights is the very same thing that will do the most to reduce gun violence. And that’s keeping the guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t own them by requiring background checks for most gun purchases.”
Cheryl Stumbo, one of six women shot at the office of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle in 2006, testified before the committee of the 20 surgeries she has undergone in the nearly eight years since the shooting there.
“I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m alive,” she said.
Stumbo brought up the financial costs that can further devastate shooting victims when their medical bills come due, as well as the costs to the public in the form of trials of the shooters, prison terms, and increased law enforcement.
Rabbi Moshe Kletenik of the Va’ad
HaRabbanim of Greater Seattle also spoke in favor of the legislature passing the initiative.
“In Leviticus 19:16 we are taught, do not stand idly by as your fellow’s blood is being spilled. And the Talmud interprets this as an imperative to do everything in our capabilities and resources to protect others’ lives,” he told the committee. “You are the leaders of our state. If there is unfortunately, God forbid, another homicide, you will be able to declare your hands clean in terms of the sacred duty to protect human life.”
Phil Shave, founder of the Washington Arms Collectors and a retired law-enforcement officer, was one of many who testified before the committee against the initiative. He called the initiative overly broad and said it does not take into account criminal intent.
“It would affect millions of our citizens and in my opinion accomplish nothing,” he said. “It makes criminals [of people] who merely hand a gun while out on the range to another person.”
Rabbi Aaron Meyer of Temple De Hirsch Sinai, who noted that he owns a firearm, compared possession of a gun to ownership of a vicious dog.
“They are dangerous objects and we must take all possible preventative measures to prevent the indiscriminate and preventable loss of human life,” he said. “You are currently the owners of this vicious dog. Will you act to protect us all from harm?”
Giffords, who is Jewish, spoke haltingly due to her injuries. Still, she spoke forcefully when speaking in favor of the legislative initiative.
“I’ve seen great courage when my life was on the line,” she said. “Now is the time to come together, be responsible — Democrats, Republicans, everyone. Never stop fighting. Go, be courageous, the nation is counting on you.”