Tacoma council votes to require gun background checks

Tacoma News TribuneMay 6, 2014 

Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland talks May 6, 2014 about a new policy to require universal background checks during gun shows on city-owned property.


All firearm purchases at gun shows on city of Tacoma property will now require a background check of the buyer.

The Tacoma City Council unanimously approved the change Tuesday night, closing the so-called gun show loophole for events using city space.

The loophole allows people selling guns from their private collections to forgo the federal background check that state and federal law requires licensed gun dealers to conduct. Now all sellers at gun shows on city property will have to run those checks.

"In the face of inaction by state and federal lawmakers our community cannot wait," said Councilman Ryan Mello. “We have a gaping hole in state and federal policy.”

The change is sparked by a gun show at the Tacoma Dome last month, the first in 23 years. Of the 152 vendors, only 12 were private sellers who could sell guns without a background check.

Wes Knodel, who organized the gun show, wants to schedule five more – one in November and four more next year. In all, the Dome could make $275,000 from those shows, according to a report from Kim Bedier, director of public assembly facilities.

Three members of Tuesday’s audience spoke in favor of the policy change, including Leanne Kennedy, a Tacoma resident who said it doesn't take much courage to support expanded background checks.

"It takes an extraordinary amount of courage to be the parent of a Newtown first grader who died," Kennedy said. It takes courage "to wake up with that kind of hole in their heart."

No one from the audience spoke against the proposal.

Councilman Marty Campbell spoke of his upbringing in rural Nebraska and called himself a proud gun owner. Speaking from the dais — which he said was made bulletproof by a previous mayor who feared an attack on the council — Campbell said the city "should not facilitate the transfer of weapons to those who would not pass a background check."

"I believe we all would agree that there are some people who should not have access to guns: felons, those convicted of domestic violence crimes or those deemed criminally insane," Campbell said.

Knodel, who did not attend Tuesday's meeting, said in an interview Monday that the policy change is “invasive and not needed,” but that he would agree to the new terms since he wants to hold future shows at the Tacoma Dome.

More than 6,000 people paid a $10 entrance fee to attend the gun show last month.

“I didn’t realize there was such a big hole in the market in that area,” Knodel said.

Tacoma police reported no problems with the event, according to a city memo. The only call the city’s 24-hour security fielded was someone who reported the restroom was out of toilet paper, Bedier said Tuesday.

The debate over background checks will continue this summer and fall, as the backers of two statewide ballot measures compete for voters' support. Initiative 594 would require background checks for all private gun sales while Initiative 591 would forbid "any government agency" from requiring background checks more stringent than federal law.

A spokesman for the I-594 campaign praised the council's action Tuesday.

"Today’s vote is another sign of public support in communities across our state for common-sense gun laws," said Zach Silk in a press release. "… We’re thrilled that Tacoma took this important step towards reducing the threat of guns falling into the hands of dangerous individuals."

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542

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