Senate Passes Bill Allowing Guns For Some Lawbreakers

OLYMPIA - The Senate passed a bill yesterday that would restore the right to own guns to people who have committed crimes that include stalking a stranger, threatening a loved one and repeat drunken driving.

The House had already passed a broader version that would only prohibit guns to felons, instantly restoring firearms rights to any misdemeanor offender, including those convicted of beating their spouse.

Under state law, conviction of some felonies and misdemeanors, including all domestic-violence crimes and harassment, disqualify a person from owning a gun. Federal law prohibits anyone convicted of any felony from owning a gun.

Supporters say they are only trying to match state law with federal law and make Washington compliant with the Brady Act, meant to strengthen gun control.

While stricter than the House version, the Senate version would allow gun possession for those convicted of misdemeanor harassment, malicious mischief or any misdemeanor committed against someone who was not a family member, household member or dating partner.

Drunken-driving offenders with three or more convictions in the past five years would also be allowed to possess guns. State law deems a person with that same record too dangerous to drive, revoking his or her license.

The Senate bill has an unusual base of support - police, gun enthusiasts, some domestic-violence advocates and possibly even the House.

Rep. Cathy McMorris, R-Colville, said if the governor says he will sign the Senate version into law, she'll ask that it be sent to his desk unchanged.

Police say they support the bill because there are police in the state who years ago committed a minor misdemeanor, such as criminal trespassing, and still are not allowed to carry a gun.

Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, said she simply wants to restore the right to "good, honest, law-abiding people" who can't legally own a gun but want to carry a concealed weapon.

Even though it would still allow those convicted of harassment to own guns, some domestic-violence advocates say they are satisfied with the bill because abusers are rarely sentenced on solely those crimes.

They support the bill because it would set up a process for offenders to retrieve their gun rights. After three years, domestic-violence offenders could petition the courts and after five years, felons could do the same.

"We didn't get everything we wanted," said Sharon Case, a lobbyist with the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "What we did get were the most serious crimes."

Sen. Darlene Fairley, D-Lake Forest Park, said she felt betrayed by domestic-violence advocates and attorneys because they didn't make it clear to her that harassment was not included in the bill's gun restrictions. She spoke in support and voted for the bill yesterday but regretted the decision shortly afterward when she made the discovery.

"That's what I get for trusting people," Fairley said. "I'm concerned about (harassment). I thought other people would care about it. "