Tacoma council passes resolution supporting universal background checks

Seven Tacoma City Council members voted Tuesday to support a statewide initiative that would require universal background checks for all gun sales.

The vote makes Tacoma the third city in the state to support the measure, behind Bainbridge Island and Mercer Island.

Voters will decide in November the fate of Initiative 594 and a competing measure, Initiative 591, which would forbid “any government agency” from requiring background checks more stringent than federal law.

Mayor Marilyn Strickland said I-594 would not stop the sale of guns to determined buyers.

“I do not see a downside to doing something like this to help move our city forward and to increase safety,” Strickland said.

Federal law currently requires a buyer to pass a background check if the gun is sold by a federally licensed firearm dealer. But when the gun is sold from someone’s private collection, a background check is not required.

Councilman Ryan Mello said a lack of background checks “potentially puts guns in the hands of dangerous people.”

Councilman Joe Lonergan was the sole council member to vote no on the resolution. He said he believes I-594 comes from “good intentions,” but if it passes, it would “take otherwise law-abiding citizens and turn them into criminals.”

The initiative, in addition to requiring a background check for sales, also requires a check when transferring a firearm from one person to another, with few exceptions. Critics allege that “transfer” could be as broad as to include the act of one person handing a gun to someone else, a charge I-594 supporters dispute.

“I believe there are a lot of other ways to ensure guns are not getting into the hands of people who should not have them,” Lonergan said during nearly five minutes of comments.

Councilwoman Lauren Walker, one of the sponsors of the resolution supporting I-594, said the initiative is not the only answer to end gun violence.

“We in Tacoma seem to be constantly battling this image of being a violent city, and I think this is one simple approach to be able to address background checks,” she said.

Councilman David Boe abstained from the vote. He called I-594 “flawed” and said after the meeting that he is against the initiative as written, not background checks.

In May, Boe and Lonergan voted with the unanimous council to require background checks for all firearm sales at city-owned or -managed venues.

Tamara Sloan-Ritchie, a teacher at Seabury Middle School, encouraged the council to pass the resolution prior to the vote. She said she recently had to answer an uncomfortable question from a student during alockdown drill: “Would you run towards a guy with a gun, or would you run away with us?”

She said the initiative has “one simple and clear purpose,” that all people who buy guns pass the same background check, no matter who the seller is.

“The right to own a gun, a weapon that can kill another human being, should carry the responsibility of a simple background check,” she said.