WASHINGTON voters have an important opportunity to make an incremental step toward greater public safety.

On the November ballot, they face two gun-related initiatives. Voters should approve Initiative 594, which would require background checks on all gun sales. They should reject the other proposal.

The same quick, familiar background screening done by gun dealers for retail sales would be applied to purchases at gun shows, and for online sales and private transactions.

The goal is simple: Protect Washington residents from those the law and sad experiences have demonstrated should not have access to firearms — those with felony convictions, sex offenders, domestic abusers and those with serious mental illnesses.

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

These prohibited buyers are already screened at one level of transaction: gun shops. I-594 simply makes a logical extension of background checks to other public and private settings that now evade scrutiny.

Indeed, those venues are exploited by gun buyers who know they could not pass a routine check, so they go where their records will not be checked.

I-594 is no protective panacea against the kinds of public assaults Seattle has suffered in recent years. But it is a step forward, and background checks do prevent guns getting into illegal hands.

Yes, people would still work to beat the system, and those who do business with them had better wonder why a buyer is breaking the law.

The initiative, which is on the November ballot, has appropriate exemptions for transfers among family members, and temporary loans of firearms for hunting, sporting events and competitions, training and self-defense. The transfer of relics and antiques is also exempt — as is even the loan of a weapon as a theatrical prop.

Gun dealers already accustomed to making these background checks would do the screening. Private parties would take their transaction to gun dealers who make the checks that have been lawful for decades.

Nothing new or radical here. Fourteen other states and the District of Columbia already have laws in place for background checks for private firearm sales.

Washington can take an incremental step in the name of public safety. Adding a measure of consistency to background checks for firearm sales is wholly appropriate.

The other gun-related ballot measure, Initiative 591, is wholly inappropriate, unnecessary and potentially a reckless retreat.

It’s hard to discern whether the mushy vague language of the brief initiative is a product of poor writing — or entirely the point.

The firearm industry and its entrepreneurial forces know their market, so the notion of “confiscating” guns is immediately mentioned. Then the initiative would prohibit “requiring background checks on firearm recipients unless a uniform national standard is required.”

So, they would go along with anything Congress approved for tighter regulations? Right. Doesn’t federal law already allow states to conduct additional background checks? Or does I-591 proclaim a federal prohibition against Washington to further protect its citizens?

Sound confusing? Exactly.

I-594 provides a practical expansion of background checks on all gun sales — clarity and consistency to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them.

Vote yes on I-594. Vote no on I-591.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).