In response to a January survey of KCBA members about a possible KCBA resolution calling for universal background checks for gun sales in Washington, the Association heard from 548 members. Two very opposite points of view were expressed in the survey comments, summarized in these two sample statements:
Viewpoint #1: "It is particularly important for the KCBA to take this courageous and needed stance. Bravo! Taking this issue in support of background checks makes me proud to be a KCBA member."
Viewpoint #2: "This is an arrogant and completely inappropriate usurpation of the KCBA platform to assert a one-sided, liberal position that I know many members of the bar disagree with."
After seven months of careful consideration, including consideration of comments from that survey, the Board of Trustees on March 19 approved a revised resolution calling for universal background checks for gun sales. The final copy of the resolution is online at www.kcba.org/gunsafety.
I summarized most of the factual issues and the process the KCBA engaged in related to this resolution in this space in January. This month I thought it might be helpful for me to share with you some of the improvements made to the resolution since January, many based on feedback that we received from the KCBA members who took time to complete our survey. That survey told us that the membership was overwhelmingly supportive of the resolution: 78 percent in favor; 21 percent opposed; 1 percent undecided.
Based on board member discussion and comments received from the membership, the final resolution saw three significant improvements. First, recitals were strengthened to more clearly explain why the Board felt this issue was appropriate for the KCBA to consider. The final resolution now notes that the Association has a long-respected tradition of speaking out on issues related to the criminal justice system and educating the public about a wide range of legal issues. And there is definitely a wide range of complex legal issues contained in the two competing gun-safety measures slated for the November election ballot, including ceding state authority to the federal government, interpreting the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and its relation to the Washington State Constitution, and understanding the right of due process in our court system.
Next, several board members expressed reservations that the original recitals specific to the two individual initiatives (I-591 and I-594) were not presented in an equal and balanced way. Careful editing by the Public Policy Committee addressed this in the final version.
Third, the Board was clearly attentive to the reservations expressed in the survey by some members and wanted to take further steps to assure the membership that its voice was well represented in the discussions. This included some further changes to the resolution, such as acknowledging the rights to privacy that concern many gun enthusiasts and clarifying that the main purpose of Initiative 594 is to close what had over years become a loophole that was not treating all gun buyers equally under existing law.
With passage of the resolution, what happens next? At a minimum, the KCBA will now be listed as a prominent civic organization that has endorsed I-594. The Association will likely monitor actions by the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility and participate in coalition activities when leaders of that group feel it could be helpful. This might take the form of adding KCBA's name to press statements, authoring an advocacy article for a future Bar Bulletin or encouraging bar leaders to participate in public forums on the issue. The most likely outcome is that our support is leveraged by the Alliance to encourage other groups to endorse the effort.
Finally, I think it's important to note that even with the many hours of volunteer time that went into learning about these issues, drafting resolutions, considering member feedback and finalizing our policy position, the issue of gun safety is not likely to become the top work priority for the Association. Yes, we're adding KCBA's name as a supporter of the effort, but we have done that over the last 125-plus years for countless concerns. Yet, for the majority of those efforts, KCBA has been a "second chair" participant. We're there to assist the lead groups, especially with our legal expertise.
But our "first chair" energies remain devoted to the core issues of the Association: ensuring equal access to justice, promoting a respected judiciary, growing diversity within the profession and supporting our members' professional needs. These principles remain the driving force behind what the KCBA does in your name.
Andrew Prazuch is KCBA's executive director. He can be reached by email (AndrewP@kcba.org) or phone (206-267-7061).