Time isn’t on the side of state’s gun control advocates

The longer U.S. senators debate gun control, or even just debate the rules of their debate, the less likely Washington voters will encounter the issue this fall.

The chances of an initiative requiring background checks on private sales of firearms making the ballot already had slimmed to nearly none as a result of creative differences between the old guard and new faces of Washington’s gun control movement.

Those forces pondering a path to the ballot have not filed a measure, let alone agreed on what it should say and do. If they did act soon, they would need to collect and turn in the signatures of 325,000 voters by July 5 to have any hope of snagging a spot on the ballot.

Now, the glimmer of possibility that the Senate, then the House, will deal with the issue — even if they don’t — pretty much snuffs out the likelihood of an initiative this year because federal action would likely trump any new state rules.

This is not the outcome desired by Ralph Fascitelli and his compatriots in Washington Ceasefire, the eldest statewide gun control organization. He’s president of the 30-year-old group and its lead voice in a coalition of like-minded folks wrestling on how best to toughen rules for gun sales.

He said the December slaying of 20 first-graders and six educators in Newtown, Conn., galvanized public support for expanding state and federal laws to require background checks on those buying guns through private sales.

He’s not confident Congress will act and waiting runs the risk of public attention waning to the point where it’s more difficult to make change later.

“This issue is episodic. You have to strike while it’s hot,” he said, expressing concern that time is running out on the 2013 option.

Washington Ceasefire lacks the financial resources and political acumen to go solo. Gathering signatures in such a short time frame then conducting a campaign requires at least a couple million dollars.

That’s where the fresh-faced Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility comes in. It’s jumped into the debate, energized by the will of prominent Seattle pols and the wallet of venture capitalist Nick Hanauer.

When the state House debated a background check bill earlier this year, it spent tens of thousands of dollars lobbying for its passage. It provided a counterweight to the efforts of the NRA and its allies though the bill did not pass.

To this point, patience is the virtue preached by this group’s strategists.

They have been gauging the enthusiasm of the grassroots and donors should there be a ballot battle this year. They have been trying to calculate how many millions of dollars the NRA might invest against them.

Finally, there’s the national landscape to consider, said Christian Sinderman, a veteran political consultant hired by the group.

Changes on the federal level may negate the need for a state initiative, he said. If Congress achieves nothing, an initiative can go forth in 2014, first through the Legislature and then to the ballot, he said.

“We’re allies but it doesn’t mean we don’t have our differences,” Fascitelli said. “We want 2013. I don’t know if we’ll win the argument on that.”

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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