EDMONDS — Mike Nelson and Brett Bass are gun owners in Edmonds.
Each is legally permitted to carry a concealed weapon, and both keep their firearms locked up in their homes.
Those similarities aside, they reached very different conclusions on Initiative 1639, the “Safe Schools, Safe Communities” measure in front of voters in the Nov. 6 election.
It would impose a slew of new rules and restrictions on firearms meant to curb gun-related violence and injuries in Washington. Among the most discussed changes are its ban on the sale of semiautomatic rifles to anyone under the age of 21 and its requirement that owners safely store their weapons.
“The public is demanding this,” Nelson said. “It’s necessary because we need laws to protect our children from gun violence and we don’t have those laws in place.”
With state and federal lawmakers unwilling or unable to pass most of the measure’s provisions, it’s fallen to voters to make their demands known, said Nelson, a father of two young children and president of the Edmonds City Council.
“As gun owners,” he continued, “we have to be responsible and we don’t see everyone exercising that responsibility.”
Bass, an NRA certified firearms instructor and safety officer, said the policies embedded in the initiative are flawed and the public use of them will be limited.
“I don’t personally understand the legal argument of depriving legitimate adults (18- to 20-year-olds) who can pass mental health and criminal background investigations from getting a rifle,” he said. “(The measure) has nothing to do with assault rifles and it has nothing to do with schools.”
Making it on the ballot
Initiative 1639 is the third significant gun-related measure to make the Washington ballot in recent years. All are the handiwork of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility which has chosen the initiative route when lawmakers didn’t act.
In 2014, voters approved Initiative 594 to make universal background checks on handgun purchases the law. In 2016, voters established the use of extreme risk protection orders to remove weapons from those deemed a threat to themselves or others.
This year, the alliance drafted Initiative 1639 after lawmakers banned bump stocks but couldn’t muster the votes for other gun-related bills.
If I-1639 passes, the legal age for buying a semiautomatic rifle will rise to 21 on Jan. 1, 2019, and buyers will be subject to the same background check requirements now conducted for purchasers of handguns. It also imposes a waiting period of at least 10 days.
Other provisions in the 30-page measure require gun buyers to prove they have completed a firearm safety training course and the state must verify annually that gun owners remain eligible to possess firearms.
Also in the initiative is a requirement for owners to lock up their firearms. If one of their weapons is accidentally or intentionally used to hurt someone, the owner could be charged with a new crime of community endangerment.
There’s also a provision intended to remind would-be buyers of the dangers associated with firearms. Language would be added to the application form gun buyers complete and sign that will state the presence of a firearm in the home “has been associated with an increased risk of death to self and others, including an increased risk of suicide, death during domestic violence incidents, and unintentional deaths to children and others.”
“It is the most comprehensive gun violence prevention measure that has ever been proposed in our state,” said Paul Kramer, of Mukilteo, when he and other supporters turned in signatures for the initiative. “It will help save lives.”
Opponents view it as draconian. It will restrict law-abiding adults’ ability to defend themselves and some of the restrictions may not be constitutional, they say.
“Initiative 1639 is 30 pages of flawed and misguided provisions that unfortunately will not live up to the public safety promises being promised by the proponents,” Keely Hopkins, state director for the National Rifle Association, told The Daily Herald editorial board.
Bass works at the Bellevue Gun Club teaching others how to safely and accurately shoot pistols and rifles. At home, his weapons are locked in a 600-pound safe, except at night, when he removes one rifle to keep bedside for self-defense.
One of his main beefs is the taking away of rights for those aged 18 to 20 who will no longer be able to legally buy a semiautomatic rifle.
And if increasing public safety is a goal, targeting these weapons will not make a significant difference as they are rarely used in crimes, he said.
Semiautomatic rifles were involved in four murders in 2017 in Washington, he said, and the response in the initiative is to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of adults from exercising their right to keep and bear arms.
Bass is a member of a task force working to reduce suicides statewide. As part of its efforts, Bass and others travel to gun shows around the state and provide locking devices to gun owners.
While he believes in storing guns safely, Bass opposes mandating it in law and creating a crime to punish those in violation.
“Do we honestly believe we are going to be able to convict people under the safe storage provisions,” he said. “The answer is emphatically no.”
And the measure directs owners to keep guns unloaded when stored. If you cannot use the firearm — because it is unloaded — then you are unable to fully exercise your Second Amendment right, he said.
Nelson offers a different perspective.
He bought his first gun, a 10/22 rifle, at age 18. The firearms he owns today are primarily for self-defense, he said.
With two young children, it’s imperative they be stored safely, he said.
“I secure them so my kids can’t get them. But I’m not going to give up my guns,” he said.
Nelson sponsored Edmonds’ new law requiring gun owners properly secure their firearms or be subject to a potential fine. Its requirements will complement those in the initiative, he said.
“We all have a role in preventing gun violence whether at the local, state, federal or citizen level,” he said. “Our state Legislature and federal government have failed to act. Our citizens are demanding that their elected officials act. In Edmonds, we did.”
“As a gun owner, I’m comfortable saying this is not that big of a burden,” Nelson said.