OLYMPIA — The Alliance for Gun Responsibility and the NRA are battling on an initiative to impose new restrictions on sales of semiautomatic rifles — and signature gathering for the measure has not even begun.
The alliance, which is sponsoring Initiative 1639, and the National Rifle Association are each suing to rewrite how the measure will be described and summarized on ballots this fall.
The two political nemeses aren’t alone. Two citizens — Glen Morgan and Joe Wilson — have also filed legal challenges to the descriptive wording penned by the Office of the Attorney General. The two men and the NRA are opposed to the measure.
State attorneys are reviewing the four petitions and will respond to them Thursday, according to a spokeswoman for the office.
A Thurston County Superior Court judge could decide next week what revisions, if any, should be made. Alliance lawyers asked the court Tuesday to hold the hearing and issue a ruling by June 1.
At that point, petitions could be printed and signatures of registered voters gathered. Time will be short as sponsors must turn in 259,622 valid signatures by July 6 to qualify.
An alliance spokeswoman said they expected challenges and filed their own to “make sure we were part of the process in determining the language.”
“We wanted to make sure all the language is accurate,” said alliance spokeswoman Katy Klein on Tuesday. “It is so important for voters who are considering signing to have a clear understanding of the policy.”
As proposed, Initiative 1639 would raise the minimum age for buying a semiautomatic rifle from 18 to 21, which is the age required to buy a handgun. It also would require the same background check and waiting period for those rifles as with handguns.
The measure would require completion of a firearm safety training course, hold gun owners liable for the safe storage of their firearms and add wording to the purchase paperwork cautioning buyers that a firearm in the home increases the “risk of death to self and others.”
By law, the attorney general’s office is responsible for drafting a ballot title of no more than 10 words, a concise description of no more than 30 words, and a summary of the measure of up to 75 words.
The content of each is critical because there will be voters who might make up their mind solely on what they read in those three elements, Klein said.
Right off the bat, there’s concern with the title, which is a short statement of the subject matter.
The attorney general’s office is suggesting “Initiative Measure No. 1639 concerns firearms” and the alliance is fine with that.
But the NRA wants it changed to “concerns restrictions on firearms” while Morgan argues for “concerns restrictions and taxes on firearm ownership.” Wilson wants no mention of firearms and suggests instead “concerns Taxes and Individual Rights.”
All four challenges cite problems with words or phrases in both the concise description and summary.
Lawyers for the alliance propose a number of edits “to more completely, accurately, and impartially convey the essential contents of the measure,” according to a May 16 filing.
One change is sought in the summary where the attorney general writes: “It would impose age limitations on who may purchase or possess certain firearms, including prohibiting firearm purchases by persons under age 21.”
Alliance lawyers say that’s wrong. They want it rewritten to read: “It would impose age restrictions on purchase and possession of semiautomatic assault rifles by persons under age 21.”
In court papers, alliance lawyers contend the attorney general “inaccurately suggests that I-1639 would impose age restrictions on the purchase or possession of a broader range of firearms than merely semiautomatic assault rifles. It also incorrectly suggests that I-1639 would prohibit all ‘firearm purchases by persons under age 21’. ”
The NRA lawyers, in their May 16 filing, also contend the concise description and summary are “not true and impartial descriptions.”
Among flaws cited by its lawyers is the failure to adequately explain new fees and use of the term enhanced background checks in both elements.
“The term ‘enhanced’ is unfairly prejudicial because it suggests that the background checks are improved or superior, when in fact the background check protocol that will be employed is more accurately and neutrally described as ‘additional’ or ‘increased’, ” the lawyers wrote.
Klein referred questions on the NRA filing to alliance lawyers who could not be reached for comment.
While the challenge process is eating into the signature-gathering time, she said it was expected and they will be prepared to hit the ground “aggressively” when a decision is handed down.
The campaign, which will employ paid signature-gatherers, already has received $2.25 million in pledges, including $1 million each from Microsoft founder Paul Allen and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer.
Can you read the difference?
The Alliance for Gun Responsibility and the NRA disagree with the 75-word summary of Initiative 1639 the state attorney general wants to put on the ballot. Here’s what the state proposed and the revisions the organizations are asking a court to make:
This measure would require enhanced background checks, firearm training, and waiting periods before semiautomatic assault rifles may be purchased or delivered. It would impose age limitations on who may purchase or possess certain firearms, including prohibiting firearm purchases by persons under age 21. It would require certain secured firearm storage or trigger-locks, and criminalize certain firearm storage if it results in unauthorized use. It would enact other firearm-related requirements, including certain warnings, record keeping, and fees.
Alliance for Gun Responsibility
This measure would require enhanced background checks, safety training, and waiting periods before semiautomatic assault rifles may be purchased or delivered. It would impose age restrictions on purchase and possession of semiautomatic assault rifles by persons under age 21. It would require use and sales of secure gun storage/devices and impose criminal liability for unsafe storage that results in unauthorized use. It would enact other firearm-related requirements, including safety warnings, record keeping, and administrative fees.
This measure would require additional background checks, new firearm training, and waiting periods before semiautomatic assault rifles may be purchased or delivered. It would impose limitations on who may purchase or possess certain firearms, including prohibiting firearm purchases by persons under age 21 or out-of-state residents. It would mandate secured firearm storage or trigger-locks, with criminal penalties for noncompliance and unauthorized use. It would enact firearm purchase fees and mandate posting certain warnings.