OLYMPIA — A simmering political battle on gun rights in Washington is heating up and all but assured of boiling over onto the ballot in 2014. On Thursday, supporters of an initiative to bar an expansion of the state’s background check law on private gun sales will deliver petitions containing 340,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office, which should be enough to get the measure in front of voters a year from now.
Backers of Initiative 591, which also blocks government confiscation of firearms without due process, plan to turn in even more before a January deadline.
“Every signature we get is another person we can contact and get to support our cause,” said Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Bellevue-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. He’s also chairman of the coalition behind I-591.
On the other side of the issue stand supporters of Initiative 594 which would expand existing state law to require background checks for online sales and private transactions, such as those that occur at gun shows.
Six weeks ago that group turned in an estimated 250,000 signatures to the state elections office and intend to add to their own pile before the Jan. 3 deadline.
“We know that we have an initiative that already has strong support,” said Christian Sinderman, the Seattle political consultant managing the Initiative 594 campaign.
Initiatives require at least 246,372 valid signatures of registered state voters to be certified, though the secretary of state suggests filing at least 320,000 to provide a buffer for any duplicate or invalid signatures.
These measures are initiatives to the Legislature. If certified, each will be sent to lawmakers who can adopt them. If they do nothing, the measures will automatically be placed on the November 2014 ballot.
Given the heat surrounding the issue, lawmakers will likely steer clear of both.
“I am making the assumption the Legislature will do nothing and it will go to the people,” Gottlieb said. “I’d prefer that. I think it’s time for the people to get a chance to speak out on it.”
Initiative 591, also known as the Protect Our Gun Rights Act, is only 191 words long.
Gottlieb said it won’t end requirements for background checks that are now in place under federal law for retail purchases. It would make sure state laws don’t exceed those rules and, in the future, are in line with any national standard Congress might enact.
It also makes it “unlawful for any government agency to confiscate guns or other firearms from citizens without due process.” This is a concern stemming from reports in Louisiana of firearms confiscated following Hurricane Katrina, he said.
“We think voters are smart and given the choice between the two, they’ll choose ours,” Gottlieb said.
Initiative 594, which is 17 pages long, seeks to close the so-called gun show loophole. Background checks for online sales, private transactions and most transfers would be conducted at federally licensed firearm dealers where people already must undergo such scrutiny before purchasing a new weapon.
The Legislature considered a measure similar to I-594 earlier this year, but it failed to get enough votes to pass in the House. It never came up in the Senate.
“Our initiative is actually attempting to make positive change and save lives,” said Christian Sinderman, the Seattle political consultant managing the Initiative 594 campaign. “Their initiative is an attempt to confuse voters and will move the dial on public safety. We’re willing to use some extra ink in the interests of protecting lives and safety.”
When Initiative 591 supporters deliver their boxes of petitions Thursday, elections staff will stamp the number of pages submitted, and provide a receipt to the proponents. They did the same for I-594 in October.
Petitions for both will be locked up until Jan. 3, 2014. Then signature checking will begin.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org
On the Net
For more about the competing initiatives on background checks, go to:
Initiative 594: http://wagunresponsibility.org/
Initiative 591: http://wagunrights.org/