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Gun control debate

The 113th Congress hotly debated gun control bills and legislation in 2013. Nationwide, states are also considering various gun control legislative measures.

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OLYMPIA — Gun control was the issue of the day in Olympia. Hundreds of people turned out to testify in support of two different initiatives regarding background checks. Some of the most poignant testimony came from former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

“We must never stop fighting. Fight, fight, fight,” she said.

photo 2Giffords is not only talking about her efforts to recover from a gunshot wound three years ago, when a long gunman walked up and shot her point-blank in the head while she was at a campaign event in Tucson, Ariz., but she was also talking about the effort to make our country safer from gun violence.

She and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, came to Olympia to push a Washington state initiative, I-594, that would expand criminal background checks for gun purchases.

“Right now, you go to a gun store, you got to get a background check,” Kelly said. But “for a criminal that fails, he can go down the street and go to a gun show” and buy a firearm.  “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Kelly admits gun control is a complicated issue with two passionate sides. There were lines of people outside the state Capitol in support of I-594.

“It is a step, it is not the final measure,” said Randy Holland. “I think more gun safety is needed, but this is at least one step.”

“What is it going to take for us to say we need to change?” asked Patricia Johnson, as she listed off some recent cases of violence.

But there were also many supporters who turned out in favor of I-591, a different initiative that would limit what the state could do regarding gun purchases.

“The background check systems do not work,” said Devyn Hembry. “We need to deal with our criminals, that’s the problem.”

“They’re punishing law-abiding citizens, they’re not focusing on criminals,” added Kevin King.

Kelly used to live in this state, and says he understands why some people don’t want more government control.

“Washington has a very strong history of gun ownership. I’m a gun owner, Gabby is a gun owner.  We’re strong supporters of the 2nd Amendment, we get that.”

But he and his wife say the only way to start reducing gun violence is to start making it harder for criminals to get weapons.  They told legislators I-594 will do that.

“Be bold, be courageous, the nation is counting on you,” Giffords testified.

The state House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on both initiatives Tuesday. But if the Legislature as a whole does not act on either, then they initiatives end up on the ballot in November and voters will decide the issue.

OLYMPIA — Supporters of a gun-control measure calling for universal background checks turned in what they said were another 95,000 signatures Thursday, giving them a total of an estimated 345,000 signatures, one day before Friday’s deadline for initiatives to the 2014 Legislature, the Washington Secretary of State’s Office said on its Web blog.

Fayetteville, N.C.The minimum number of valid voter signatures needed to be sent to the Legislature this winter is 246,372.

Initiative 594 requires universal background checks on gun purchases.

Sponsors of a competing measure, I-591, plan to bring in another 5,000 signatures Friday afternoon after submitting about 340,000 signatures in late November, the office said. That initiative would prohibit government agencies from confiscating guns or other firearms from citizens without due process, or from requiring background checks on firearm recipients unless a uniform national standard is required.

If validated, the two measures would go first to the Legislature, which could approve either or both measures as submitted, ignore or reject them and allow them to go to the 2014 general election ballot.

Local News

Gun safety campaign aimed at protecting kids

SEATTLE – Citing dozens of preventable deaths and injuries, King County officials launched a new campaign on Monday called Safe Storage Saves Lives, a plea to ask residents to lock up all firearms and keep them out of the hands of children and criminals.

Armed with a stack of statistics, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced a new campaign to protect kids from the guns in their own homes.

“The evidence is clear. Safe storage saves lives,” Constantine said.

gunsCounty officials, local law enforcement and firearm retailers are teaming up to get the word out to prevent avoidable deaths and injuries.

Between 1999 and 2012, 68 children in King County died from gunshot wounds and 125 others were seriously injured by gunfire.

Constantine said, “Having 30,000 loaded and unlocked guns in homes and 5,000 kids in those homes is a prescription for tragedy.”

Unsecured weapons are also prime targets in residential burglaries. Those stolen guns are often used to commit other crimes or shootings.

King County Sheriff John Urquhart said, “It’s time for lock boxes and gun safes to be as normal as wearing a seatbelt.”

Experts suggest that guns should be unloaded and stored in one place and ammo should be kept locked away in a different location.

Retailers such asSports Authority, Costco and others will be offering discounts on locks and safes from now through the end of 2014 as part of the program.

Constantine said, “This could become the new norm. If you have a gun in your home, it should be safely stored.”

SEATTLE — Supporters of an initiative to forbid universal background checks on gun sales in Washington state beyond the federal requirements have turned in their first batch of petitions to qualify for the 2014 ballot. Backers of Initiative 591 say they’ve gathered 340,000 signatures, more than enough to send the measure to voters.

I-591 would make it illegal for any government agency to require background checks beyond federal standards. The initiative would also prevent the government from confiscating guns or other firearms from citizens without due process.

guns3Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, insists that I-591 is not meant to eliminate background checks. He accuses gun prohibitionists of waging a war of disinformation. “They would have the public believing that there currently are no background checks,” Gottlieb said in a post on the committee’s website. “We have federal and state checks in place, and we are going to protect those procedures with I-591.”

The gun-rights initiative was filed in response to a competing ballot measure, I-594, which would establish background checks for all public and private gun sales in Washington state. Both initiatives are expected to go before the 2014 Legislature and, if lawmakers don’t approve, to the November 2014 ballot, according to The Seattle Times.

Read the full text of I-591 here and I-594 here.

SEATTLE — Seattle public libraries are places to read and research, study or just enjoy the peace and quiet.

Now it’s also a place for handguns, whether carried concealed or where everyone can see.

LibraryPatrons who spend a lot of time at the library have mixed feelings about guns in their library.

“It’s out there on the streets so it might as well be in here as well,” library visitor Randy Larson said.

“It’s a gun and it can go off very quickly and has really bad results,” library visitor Catherine Reynolds said.

The city of Seattle has for years tried to ban guns in public places, even though the state Constitution grants citizens that right.

Library officials voted to make the change and allow guns inside, but in reality they had no choice.

“The reason for the rule change is the Seattle Public Libraries needs to be in compliance with state law around firearms,” Seattle public library spokeswoman Andra Addison said.

Where one can carry a gun has long been a big issue for those on both sides of the gun debate.

“It’s a terrible idea, absolutely terrible idea,” said Ralph Fascitelli, spokesman for the gun-safety organization Washington CeaseFire.

“Whether it’s a good idea or bad idea, they have to comply with state law,” said Dave Workman, spokesman for the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation.

The foundation filed a successful lawsuit to stop Seattle’s ban on guns in parks.

Workman said that lifting the decades-old ban on libraries is long overdue.

“This may come as a shock to some of the people at the Seattle library system, but armed citizens have been going in and using that facility for years.  Now is the time for the Seattle library system to comply with the state law and they’re doing that and that’s the responsible thing to do,” Workman said.

Washington CeaseFire disagrees.

“Cities like Seattle that want to protect their people can’t. They can’t protect them in parks.  They can’t protect them in libraries.  And like I say, it’s a bad law. It’s a bad law because where you have guns you have gun violence,” Fascitelli said.

gunOLYMPIA — Backers of an initiative that would require criminal and public safety background checks  for anyone trying to buy or inherit a gun cleared the first round of hurdles Wednesday, bringing the measure one step closer to a popular vote.

According to the secretary of state, backers of I-594 submitted an estimated 250,000 signatures in 15,000 petitions to the secretary of state’s office Wednesday. They hope to have the issue brought before the state legislature in 2014. If lawmakers don’t pass the measure, and enough valid voter signatures are submitted, it will be on the 2014 ballot.

The group, led by Jewish Federation shooting victim Cheryl Stumbo, planned to submit at least 325,000 signatures by the Jan. 3 deadline, all but guaranteeing the issue would be taken up by the 2014 legislature.

If passed, the initiative would enforce stricter regulation on gun buys and background checks.

The issue of background checks again rose to national prominence in late 2012, when a shooter killed more than 25 children and adults at an elementary school in Connecticut.

According to the Seattle Times, opponents of the measure are also collecting signatures for a separate initiative that would restrict the state from adopting stricter background check rules.

SEATTLE — The gunman who killed 12 people and seriously wounded three others at the Washington Navy Yard was, by his own admission, suffering from mental illness.

Just last month in Rhode Island, police were called to a hotel after Aaron Alexis caused a disturbance there, telling police he was hearing voices and thought someone was following him and sending vibrations through his body to keep him awake.

gunsChristen Sinderman, with the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, feels more needs to be done to make sure guns don’t end up in the hands of someone who is mentally unstable and could potentially hurt themselves or someone else.

“We have to keep working on this because these problems are not going away and, unfortunately, they’re escalating in many cases,” said Sinderman.

Currently in Washington state, mental health records are submitted into a national database used for gun background checks but only if that person has been involuntarily committed by a court to a mental hospital for at least 14 days.

“You need to have some judicial protections for individuals when something like basic constitutional rights are being denied,” said Amnon Schoenfeld, King County mental health director.

Schoenfeld believes tightening the reporting laws could be detrimental in the long run.

“The danger of going in a direction of anyone who has a mental illness shouldn’t be able to get a firearm is that  it might do more harm than good because people would not seek treatment if they knew that just by talking to a therapist they would be reported into some national database,” said Schoenfeld.

The Legislature passed a bill this year that requires the state to create its own database.  Other measures, including background checks at gun shows and for online sales, failed.

“Every time there’s one of these tragedies, it underscores the need to take action.  Whether it’s an initiative here in Washington state or other states, or a continued effort at the federal level, we have to keep working on this,” said Sinderman.

guns(CNN) — Should blind people be granted gun permits?

The question entered the crosshairs of some gun control advocates over the weekend, after a report about Iowa issuing permits to buy and carry firearms to people who are legally blind.

That’s legal under the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, which limits who can get guns nationwide. People who were convicted of crimes and served time for more than a year, people addicted to controlled substances and anyone who has been committed to a mental institution are among those who aren’t allowed to possess firearms.

Each state has different rules governing gun permits.

In Iowa, at least, the visually impaired can get permits to carry firearms in public, The Des Moines Register reported on Sunday.

That’s for good reason, Jane Hudson, the executive director of Disability Rights Iowa, told the newspaper. She said blocking visually impaired people from getting weapons permits would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Some states, such as Nebraska and South Carolina, require applicants for gun permits to show “proof of vision.”

In Texas, lawmakers passed a measure in 2007 to help legally blind people hunt.

The law allows legally blind hunters accompanied by a sighted partner to use laser sighting devices, according to the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, which said the measure “encouraged more disabled sportsmen to pursue their love of hunting.”

After The Des Moines Register’s story, word about Iowa’s approach spread swiftly on social media Sunday.

“What could possibly go wrong?” Jeff Smith, an assistant professor of politics and advocacy at The New School in New York, quipped in a Twitter post.

“At least on its face, it just seems totally absurd and absolutely in the other direction from the kind of common-sense gun safety restrictions that the president and others fought for earlier this year,” he said.

“Just because we have a Second Amendment shouldn’t mean that blind people can walk around with concealed weapons.”

Earlier this year, blind entertainer Stevie Wonder weighed in on the matter.

Wonder, who has called for stricter gun laws, told CNN’s Piers Morgan that he had thought about going gun shopping with a friend to demonstrate how easy it was to get a weapon.

“Imagine me with a gun,” he said. “It’s just crazy.”

Last year, a blind New Jersey man fought for his right to own guns — and won.

The battle over Steven Hopler’s gun collection lasted for years. Police seized six of his firearms in 2008 after he shot himself in the leg, CNN affiliate WCBS reported.

Prosecutors argued he shouldn’t have guns because he was a danger, the CNN affiliate reported. But last year, a judge ruled in Hopler’s favor, citing the right to bear arms, WCBS said.

His attorney argued that authorities had singled out his client.

“It’s just simply that the police didn’t want Steve Hopler to own firearms, because he’s blind and they felt that that was improper,” attorney Robert Trautman.

After the judge’s decision, Hopler told WCBS he was grateful to get his guns back. The victory, he said, wasn’t about power.

“It’s freedom,” he said.

CNN’s Josh Levs and Lindsey Knight contributed to this report.


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(CNN Money) — Machine guns are illegal in the U.S. for most people, but one small company has found a way around that.

Slide Fire, based in Moran, Texas, plans to sell a semiautomatic rifle that mimics the rapid fire of a machine gun and is also fed bullets from a belt, which provides a huge capacity for ammunition — potentially thousands of rounds.

Brandon Renner, sales and marketing manager for Slide Fire, says the belt-fed rifle, called the SFS BFR, will be available this fall and sell for $6,000.

“It sprays like a fire hose,” said Renner. “We recommend no more than 30 rounds on the belt, but one person could make it as big as they want.”

Can that be legal?

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says yes, since it’s still technically a semiautomatic.

The key is that of the pieces that make up a gun, the ATF regulates only the “receiver.” It’s the only piece that has a serial number and the only one that requires a background check to purchase. Slide Fire modifies the trigger and the stock — the butt of the gun that sits against the shooter’s shoulder.

Slide Fire’s technology uses the recoil of the rifle shot to “bump” the gun, speeding up the rate of fire without changing the gun’s classification as a semiautomatic, which requires that only one round is fired each time the trigger is pulled.

In a 2010 letter posted on Slide Fire’s website, the ATF wrote: “We find that the ‘bump-stock’ is a firearm part and is not regulated as firearm under the Gun Control Act or the National Firearms act.”

“I can confirm that ATF did approve the device referenced in the letter and that the Slide Fire is legal,” said ATF spokesman Christopher Amon.

Slide Fire already sells bump-stocks for $370 that speed up the rate of fire for semiautomatics. The company also sells semiautomatic rifles that have already been accessorized for bump-fire, costing between $1,150 to $1,950. But these guns use magazines, not belts, and thus have limited ammo capacity.

A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, one of the largest gun sellers in America, said the company does not sell Slide Fire products, and will not be offering the belt-fed rifle.

Another major dealer, Cabela’s, did not return messages from CNNMoney about Slide Fire. But the company’s website listed Slide Fire products for sale.

James Hill, owner of the Abilene Indoor Gun Range, located about 50 miles away from Slide Fire’s headquarters, said he sells the company’s bump-fire accessories and they’re quite popular with his customers.

But Hill, who referred to the Slide Fire products as “a poor man’s machine gun,” doesn’t plan to sell the belt-fed gun, because he doesn’t believe there will be much of a demand for it.

He said the Slide Fire rifle is a bit more challenging to fire than a fully automatic weapon, but the “learning curve” can be corrected with a bit of practice.

“It’s not as easy [as full auto], but it’s fairly idiot proof,” he said