Well, maybe not, as nothing is ever truly dead in Olympia until the final gavel falls, but state House Democrats fell a few votes short yesterday of passing HB 1588, a bill that would have required background checks on most private sales of guns. Oh sure, lawmakers love to talk about "the will of the people" when it comes to weaseling out of raising taxes, but they certainly didn't let the overwhelming popular support for this measure sway them in the face of the usual threats from the well-armed gun lobby.

And ironically, gun control advocates may have inadvertently enabled this particular act of political cowardice. Rather than perceiving chatter of a well-financed gun control initiative as a political threat, some lawmakers saw it as a convenient way out of casting a politically dicey vote. Why take a bullet from the NRA when Nick Hanauer is willing to put up the money to put it on the ballot?

The shameful truth about this issue is that much of the reluctance to pass universal background checks isn't based on principle. Sure, there are the hard core NRA types. But they're crazy. And most of them are Republicans. And bill sponsors never really counted on Republican support. Nor did they need it.

No, the Democratic fence-sitters who ended up killing this measure don't really feel strongly about it one way or another. The threat of an initiative is normally the threat of more sweeping legislation. It's political extortion: Either pass this modest measure or we'll give you an initiative you'll truly hate. But most of the Democratic opposition would be fine with that, as long as they themselves don't have to publicly cast a vote.

So that's likely where we are—a November ballot initiative that presumably would impose not just universal background checks, but bans on large ammunition magazines and maybe even assault weapons as well. You know, as long as Hanauer puts his money where his mouth is.