OLYMPIA — A group of gun-violence victims delivered a letter to state Senate leaders Friday, complaining they were disrespected at a committee hearing last week.
The eight victims, a mix of survivors and family members of people who died in shootings, wrote that the structure of a Senate Law & Justice Committee hearing on gun-sale background checks “allowed some participants to not only perpetuate myths about background checks, but demean our input and perspective as victims and survivors.”
The letter, addressed to Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and committee Chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, specifically mentioned Auburn GOP Sen. Pam Roach and National Rifle Association lobbyist Brian Judy.
It accused Roach of suggesting female background-check supporters were trying to appear “helpless” to gain support, and Judy of joking about murder.
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Roach dismissed the complaint as politically motivated.
“A week and a half after a hearing, a campaign has had a chance to review and review and review the tape, and a week and a half later, they finally find something they can complain about,” Roach said. “If it was so offensive, why didn’t they mention it in the first place? It was not offensive.”
Judy did not return messages seeking comment.
The hearing in question was the less high profile of a pair of hearings last week on Initiative 594, which would require background checks for all gun sales, and Initiative 591, which would keep the current system in which checks are needed only for sales from licensed firearm dealers.
A hearing last Tuesday in the House Judiciary Committee received more attention because of the attendance of hundreds of activists and former U.S. Rep. congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, of Arizona, who survived being shot in the head during a January 2011 rampage that killed six and injured a dozen others.
But there were also heated arguments from both sides in the Wednesday hearing in the Senate.
Background-check supporters argued the checks would help prevent crime, while opponents argued criminals would still avoid the checks, making the proposal only a new burden on law-abiding gun owners.
The hearing was structured to allow each committee member five minutes to question the first two supporters of each initiative — a format used by Congress but not often deployed in Olympia.
Padden said several senators told him the format produced a more complete debate.
Friday’s letter was “the first complaint I have received, 10 days after the hearing,” Padden said.
“Each side of each Initiative received questions and comments they probably appreciated and ones that they probably did not,” he said.
Roach used her question time to make arguments against background checks.
In her opening comments, she noted that Initiative 594’s initial supporters both were women.
“I don’t give much to gender on these kinds of things,” Roach said. “It’s easy to push forward the women and say, ‘helpless,’ and this kind of thing.”
Judy’s remark came in response to a question from Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, who led the lobbyist through a list of gun-violence tragedies that he said would not have been prevented by universal background checks.
O’Ban mentioned the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Conn., where the gunman first fatally shot his mother, then 20 first-graders and six staff members at the elementary school.
“Obviously that transaction would not have been captured in the 594 if it had been law?” O’Ban asked.
“Unfortunately, I think that was the murder-your-mom loophole,” Judy answered.
State Sen. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, complained about that line later in the hearing.
“A phrase ‘the murder-your-mom loophole,’ which might sound very familiar to you, and friendly, and humorous, is in fact not humorous to me,” Darneille said.
The committee took no action on either initiative.
While lawmakers could pass the measures, they are expected to allow them to go to the November ballot for voters to decide.
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal