State voters both for and against gun background checks

OLYMPIA — Two competing gun initiatives on the November ballot both have enough support to pass, according to a poll released Tuesday that could indicate that many voters are confused about the measures involving background checks.

The results released by pollster Stuart Elway found that 72 percent of people surveyed were inclined to vote for Initiative 594, which would require background checks on all firearm sales in Washington.

The poll also found that 55 percent were inclined to vote for Initiative 591, which would prevent Washington state from adopting background-check laws stricter than the national standard, which requires checks for sales by licensed dealers but not for purchases from private sellers.

The poll found that 40 percent of voters were inclined to vote for both measures.

Elway said he anticipated confusion over the ballot titles of the measures and asked survey respondents a separate question about whether they favored more extensive background checks for gun sales or keeping the system as it is. He said 62 percent favored more extensive checks.

Elway noted that in a March 2013 poll, 79 percent of voters surveyed said they favored background checks on all gun sales.

“The underlying attitude about gun rights may have shifted somewhat in the past year, but not in a consistent direction,” Elway wrote, saying that the decrease to 62 percent this year “could represent a significant decline in support for background checks. And yet 72 percent intend to vote for I-594 to expand background checks.”

The latest Elway survey of 504 registered voters was conducted April 9-13. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Both ballot measures began as initiatives to the Legislature. The House and Senate held public hearings on both earlier this year but did not advance them out of committees, meaning voters will decide the issues in November.

Dave Workman, a spokesman for the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, which supports I-591, noted that voters don’t usually start paying close attention to campaigns until the fall.

“By the time the election rolls around, voters are going to have a pretty good idea of what both initiatives are all about,” he said, though he acknowledged that even then they may choose to pass both.

I-591 also would prohibit confiscation of firearms without due process, and Workman said that element, which isn’t addressed in I-594, could be one explanation for why surveyed voters indicated support for both measures.

I-594 spokesman Christian Sinderman said that in the coming months, education will be a key component for the campaign.

“There’s obviously a segment of voters out there who will want to know the differences and the stark choices being offered,” he said.

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