OLYMPIA — A new state gun-control advocacy group is preparing to announce a 2014 initiative campaign centered on expanded background checks, according to several leaders of the group.
The ballot measure, which would be Washington state’s first gun-related measure since a high-profile failure in 1997, would start as an initiative to the Legislature. If lawmakers did not approve the proposal next session, it would go before voters in November 2014.
The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility’s plan has not yet been finalized, the leaders said. It will be discussed with members during a Monday meeting in Seattle.
But even those still hoping for a 2013 initiative acknowledged the group is increasingly focusing on 2014 because of this year’s looming signature-gathering deadline and because wealthy national allies are focused on the gun-control debate in Congress.
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“The truth is that the clock has run out on 2013,” said Ralph Fascitelli, board president of Washington Ceasefire, a longtime state gun-control group working with the new alliance, which is funded by venture capitalist Nick Hanauer.
The proposed initiative would seek to require background checks for all or almost all gun transfers, Fascitelli and the others said. Checks are now required for sales by licensed firearm dealers but not transactions between private individuals.
The U.S. Senate is considering a similar measure, but local advocates are not putting much faith in the divided Congress.
Rumors of a potential initiative have swirled since the Alliance emerged in February.
The group is planning to make a public announcement about the initiative April 29 — the day after a legislative session that has disappointed gun-control advocates.
Lawmakers considered many gun-control proposals this session, which started weeks after a Connecticut school shooting that galvanized the movement. But only two still have a chance of becoming law — the creation of a firearm felon database and a requirement that some residents with protective orders against them temporarily surrender their guns.
The most prominent of the failed proposals, which would have expanded background checks, never got a vote after hours of intense political theater left supporters two votes short in the state House.
“I think that was a defining moment for the Alliance,” said the Rev. Sandy Brown of Seattle’s First United Methodist Church, “because we came to understand what we can and cannot hope for in the Washington state Legislature at the current time.”
In the month since, the Alliance has conducted detailed polling, coordinated with national gun-control groups and debated how to move forward.
Spokesman Christian Sinderman said the group has focused on figuring out which path would provide the best chance of scoring a major victory for gun control.
“Nobody’s interested in losing,” Sinderman said. “There’s no such thing as a noble loss here.”
The question of 2013 versus 2014 initially divided the Alliance, said Sinderman and others.
Normally, an even-year election would be a better option because more on the ballot triggers higher turnout, which usually favors liberal causes. But three factors complicate that in this case: the momentum from the Connecticut shooting; the 2013 Seattle mayor’s race, which is expected to attract many liberal voters; and the lack of a U.S. Senate race in Washington in 2014.
Many local advocates wanted to do the initiative in 2013, but the national allies preferred 2014, said Alliance lobbyist Cody Arledge.
The Alliance will need money from groups such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Mike Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Gabrielle Giffords’ Americans for Responsible Solutions, Arledge said. But those groups are focused now on the longshot effort in Congress, he said.
Representatives from the three groups did not return messages seeking comment.
Alliance campaign manager Zach Silk, who ran last year’s $12.5 million pro-gay-marriage referendum win, said the gun-control advocates haven’t yet written a budget for a potential initiative campaign.
Silk said competitive initiatives in Washington cost anywhere from $6 million to $12 million and can go as high as $22 million.
Silk predicted opponents would spend heavily.
A Washington state lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, which opposes expanded background checks, said he doesn’t know how involved his bosses would get in an initiative election.
“We’ll be invested, certainly,” said the lobbyist, Brian Judy. “We just can’t make that determination until we see if there’s an initiative and what it contains.”
The NRA believes that expanded background checks would place an ineffective and unconstitutional burden on law-abiding gun owners.
The Alliance is planning a May 30 luncheon at The Westin Seattle to launch its fundraising efforts, said former Seattle City Councilmember Tina Podlowski, who is coordinating the event.
State Rep. Jamie Pedersen, a Seattle Democrat who sponsored the unsuccessful background-check bill in the House, said a state initiative could have national implications.
“No question, the country will be watching,” he said.
Brian M. Rosenthal: 360-236-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal+