Gun initiatives set to duel in November
February 27, 2014
New: Feb. 27, 11:14 a.m.
By Christopher Lopaze
WNPA Olympia News Bureau
Campaigns for dueling gun initiatives on this year’s ballot could bring national attention to Washington state, and contribute to an ongoing debate about gun laws across the United States.
Initiative 594 would enact statewide criminal background checks for all firearm transactions. That’s indirect conflict with Initiative 591, which would prohibit passage of any law expanding background checks unless a national standard is created. I-591 also prohibits confiscations of guns without due process.
Both measures were given a public hearing in the Legislature, but it’s doubtful state lawmakers will take further action, said Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma), head of the house committee that heard testimony on the initiatives. Jinkins said it doesn’t make sense to waste time on measures that aren’t likely to pass.
Lawmakers have the option of not taking action on initiatives to the Legislature, if they don’t, the initiatives will end up on the November ballot.
The Citizens Committee to Protect the Right to Keep and Bear Arms is a member of the pro-I-591 campaign. Dave Workman, communications director for the organization, said the state has some of the best firearm laws in the country, not just because they are less restrictive, but because they have strongly written language to defend an individual’s right to bear arms.
“It’s a matter of dealing with a constitutional affirmed and protected civil right,” Workman said. And he said the state constitution includes arguably stronger language regarding the right to bear arms than the Second Amendment.
Christian Sinderman, spokesperson for the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, said his organization is ready to run an aggressive campaign for I-594.
“We’re building what we hope is a long-term movement for gun responsibility.”
He said the stark contrast between the proposals presents a clear choice for citizens. Because of the situation with dueling initiatives, he said there is potential for both sides to receive significant out-of-state funding.
Lobbyists for the National Rifle Association have spoken against I-594 during a public hearing this session, but the organization has not taken a position on I-591 yet.
Both initiatives received significantly more than the 246,732 signatures required to qualify for the ballot.
The campaigns promise to draw a lot of attention and money, with a combined total of more than $2.2 million raised already.
The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, which backs I-594, has raised about $1.5 million, more than twice the $717,000 raised by the Protect Our Gun Rights committee in support of I-591, according to the Public Disclosure Commission.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a New York-based coalition of mayors seeking to expand gun-control laws, donated $30,000 to the Yes on I-594, which has been the only significant out-of-state contribution.
Nicolas Hanauer, a Seattle-based venture capitalist, contributed $265,000, making him the largest donor to the Yes on I-594 campaign. Bill and Melinda Gates each added $25,000 in contributions as individuals.
Most of the funding for the Yes on I-591 has come from in-state donors. The Gun Owners Action League, Washington Arm Collectors and Citizens Committee to Protect the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, pro-gun organizations based in the state, are the largest contributors to Yes on I-591. Together, they have donated more than $600,000.
Todd Donovan, a Western Washington University professor of political science who studies elections, said it would be difficult to eclipse the previous fundraising record — $20 million on I-1183 to privatize liquor sales, set in 2011.
He said it depends on whether grassroots organizations and political-interest groups decide to funnel their resources into Washington.
What happens if they both pass?
Washington state would be in a novel position if both measures pass. The state Constitution does not outline a process to follow in that situation.
Donovan said when rival initiatives are on the same ballot, voters are more likely to reject both proposals, which is what happened in two previous elections when this situation occurred.
In the 1993 election, there were conflicting initiatives, I-601 and I-602, on limiting state-revenue collection and spending. In 2005, provisions in two initiatives on medical-malpractice law were in direct opposition. I-330 was sponsored by doctors; I-336 was sponsored by lawyers.
When the issue came up in 1993, Chris Gregoire, who was then state attorney general, issued an opinion that said if both measures passed, the Legislature would have to act to resolve the differences.
If the Legislature did not, then the state Supreme Court would have to find a new process to choose between conflicting provisions.
Katie Blinn, director of legislative policy for the Secretary of State’s Office, said people have firm beliefs on an issue like gun control, and it’s likely voters will be decisive in picking one of the proposals over the other.
Sponsors could also challenge the legality of the measures, and if one of them was declared illegal, the remaining initiative would be accepted as law.