PORTLAND – Guns were a hot topic Tuesday afternoon as gun control advocates gathered in Portland and Olympia, Wash. in support of tougher background checks for gun owners.
Former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords traveled to Washington Tuesday and was expected to testify before the State House Judiciary Committee, in favor of expanding background checks.
Giffords, a Democrat, was gravely wounded during an attempted assassination and rampage at a public event in Tucson, Ariz. in January 2011. Six people were killed and a dozen others were injured in the rampage.
In Portland, a group gathered downtown Tuesday focusing on universal background checks and law enforcement.
“Forty percent of gun buyers nationwide obtain their guns from private sales with no background check required,” said Oregon's U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall. “So this is just a gaping loophole. As law enforcement, we need all of the tools possible to keep guns out of the hands of criminals."
Organizers acknowledged there were no quick fixes in Oregon and that gun violence prevention was a long-term challenge.
In Washington, however, the public on both sides of the issue is considering action.
Initiative 594 would expand background checks on all gun sales in Washington state, closing the so-called 'gun show loophole.'
Another initiative, I-591, would prevent Washington state from adopting background-check laws stricter than the national standard, which requires the checks for sales by licensed dealers but not for purchases from private sellers. It would also prohibit confiscation of firearms without due process.
Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, were on hand Tuesday to lend support for expanding background checks.
Since the shooting, Giffords has put herself at the center of the gun debate, traveling to states across the country in an effort to tighten gun restrictions.
These dueling initiatives won't likely be acted upon in Olympia, with so much divide among state lawmakers. But both have enough signatures to be put on a November ballot, where voters will have the final say.
That could create a dilemma for the state. If both competing initiatives are approved by voters, Washington State is largely in uncharted territory, said Hugh Spitzer, law professor at the University of Washington.
"It would likely be up to the state Supreme Court," Spitzer says. "Maybe the court would borrow from some other approaches, and say the one with the greater number of votes prevails. Maybe the legislature would try to come in and fix it with a two-thirds vote in the house. We just don't know."
The public will have a chance to weigh in during a separate public hearing set for Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.