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With Washington voters set to decide on competing gun initiatives this fall, a tax-exempt nonprofit group is launching a major TV ad campaign promoting universal background checks for all gun sales.

The Center for Gun Responsibility, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, announced the TV ad campaign Friday. Molly Boyajian, a spokeswoman for the group, said its $1 million campaign will include two weeks worth of broadcast TV ads in the Seattle market, as well as 950 cable TV spots and additional Internet advertising.

While the group is not required to disclose its donors, Boyajian said the ad campaign’s primary funder is Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer.

Hanauer also is the driving force behind Initiative 594, which aims to close the so-called “gun show loophole” by requiring criminal background checks on all gun sales.

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Despite that connection, Boyajian said the ads are not aimed at promoting I-594. By law, 501(c)(3) groups can lose their tax-exempt status if they engage in too much political activity. The IRS does allow such groups to engage in “issue advocacy.”

Boyajian said most Washington voters are supportive of common-sense gun laws and that many are surprised to learn that background checks are not required on all gun sales. “We think it’s really important to be able to start an informed conversation,” she said.

Alan Gottlieb, the Bellevue Second Amendment activist, accused the pro-gun-control forces of skirting the law by pretending the ads are not connected to the background-check initiative. “Of course it’s connected. It’s obviously disingenuous,” he said, adding that he may file a complaint with the IRS over the matter.

Gottlieb is leading the campaign for Initiative 591, a dueling measure that also has qualified for the November ballot. Initiative 591 would keep the current system of requiring background checks only for sales from licensed firearms dealers.

So far, the I-591 campaign has raised about $1 million and spent $773,000, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission. The I-594 campaign has raised more than $3 million and spent $2 million.

The Center for Gun Responsibility’s first TV ad makes no mention of either initiative, but argues for background checks to keep guns out of the hands of felons and domestic abusers.

The ad features Sgt. Dave Hoover, a Lakewood, Colo., police officer, whose nephew was one of 12 people killed in the 2012 movie-theater shooting in Aurora, Colo. Hoover says states like Colorado, which have expanded criminal background checks to all gun sales, have seen fewer law-enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

“The right to bear arms comes with the responsibility to make sure guns don’t fall into the wrong hands,” he says.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or On Twitter @Jim_Brunner

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