With the smoke and sulfur still hanging in the air from Wednesday nights’s Fourth of July fireworks, the mortars are now being prepared for a political pyrotechnic show over a proposed initiative for the November ballot.
Even before supporters of gun-control Initiative 1639 have turned in their signatures to the Secretary of State’s office to put the measure on the ballot, its challengers asked the state Supreme Court to invalidate it, claiming it does not meet the state’s legal standards for citizen initiatives, The News Tribune reported Monday.
Drafted after similar legislation failed this year in the Legislature, I-1639 would raise the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic firearm to 21 from 18. Among the measure’s other provisions it would require background checks by local law enforcement for the purchases of semi-automatic weapons, similar to that now required for handguns; require a firearm safety training course for gun owners; hold gun owners responsible if a child uses an unsafely stored firearm; require a waiting period of up to 10 days for purchase of an “assault weapon;” and require the state to create a process of annual checks that gun owners remain eligible to posses firearms.
The Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation, in this round, is challenging the initiative on procedural grounds, arguing that the petition being used to gather signatures is unreadable because the initiative text is too small and doesn’t make clear what state laws would be changed or eliminated by the measure. The copy shown on the back of the petition does not contain the strike-outs that are used to show what would be eliminated or the underlines that highlight new or amended text.
“Reading that petition is like taking a bad eye exam,” complains Alan Gottlieb, the foundation’s founder and executive vice president in a news release.
Tallman Trask, a spokesman for the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, which is leading the campaign, told The News Tribune that pro-gun groups “can’t win at the ballot” and were making a last-ditch effort in court to stop I-1639. Trask defended the petitions as being designed to be clear about the measure’s provisions and were not an attempt to be deceptive.
Small type is common for such petitions, as initiatives commonly are detailed and lengthy. A pdf of I-1639 online shows it to be 30 pages in length. And the online version does include the strike-outs and underlines not shown on the petition.
When voters are asked to sign such petitions, those who actually read the text of an initiative on the back of a petition likely number those who fully read the Terms and Conditions agreement for Apple iTunes before clicking “accept.”
“People signing Initiative 1639 understand what it does,” Trask said.
Those who felt the petition was unreadable, not clear or incomplete were under no obligation to sign it.
Yet, it is unusual for a petition not to show an initiative’s text as filed with the state.
“It would be totally unacceptable for the Legislature to vote on proposed legislation without the strike-outs and underlines,” Sam Reed, a former Republican secretary of state, wrote in an email to The News Tribune. “Since the public is acting as the legislature with initiatives, they need to meet up to the same standards.”
That might be unacceptable, but it hasn’t gotten to that stage yet.
The “Legislature” of state voters has yet to be asked to vote on the measure. Assuming the campaign has gathered enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, the state’s voters will be able to review the “full, true and correct copy” of the initiative in the state voter’s guide, online and elsewhere. The petition, itself, is not the legislation but a request to put the legislation before voters.
As of Tuesday afternoon, state Supreme Court Commissioner Michael E. Johnston had denied the plaintiffs’ motion on a procedural issue, remanding the decision to Secretary of State Kim Wyman, who has the legal authority to refuse a petition if she finds it deficient.
Wyman should carefully consider the question but give due weight to the wishes of an estimated 360,000 voters who have signed the petition.
There could be an argument made that the petition doesn’t meet state standards for initiatives, but that and other challenges to I-1639 should wait until after voters have had their chance to support or reject it.