Facing a multimillion-dollar initiative campaign to expand background checks for gun sales, local Second Amendment activists are countering with a ballot measure of their own.
A coalition of gun-rights groups on Wednesday unveiled Initiative 591, which would prevent Washington state from adopting background-check laws more restrictive than the federal standard.
The initiative, Protect Our Gun Rights, also would prohibit any confiscation of firearms without due process.
If supporters get some 246,000 valid signatures, the proposal would become an initiative to the Legislature in 2014 and could end up on the November 2014 ballot — just like the pro-background-check measure.
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“The best defense is offense,” said Alan Gottlieb, of the Bellevue-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, who came up with the initiative. “We’re giving the voters — who we think are very smart — an alternative.”
The coalition is planning to kick off its signature-gathering and fundraising efforts at a Washington Arms Collectors gun show this Saturday, Gottlieb said.
The new initiative could set up a major showdown on a key issue.
Advocates for stronger gun laws have focused on background checks in the aftermath of a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school last December.
The checks, which are meant to prevent felons and dangerously mentally disabled people from obtaining weapons, are currently required for sales from licensed gun dealers but not for transactions between private citizens, including at gun shows.
Supporters believe mandatory checks for all transfers would improve public safety. Opponents see them as an unnecessary burden on law-abiding gun owners.
Advocates pushed unsuccessfully throughout the winter and spring for lawmakers in Congress and the state Legislature to adopt universal background checks.
Now, they’re turning to the people.
The planned pro-background-check measure, Initiative 594, was filed earlier this month.
It is sponsored by the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, a new group backed by wealthy venture capitalist Nick Hanauer that already has raised more than $1 million.
The gun-rights coalition has so far received $400,000 in pledges from Gottlieb’s group and the Washington Arms Collectors, supporters said. The Gun Owners Action League of Washington is also involved.
John Rodabaugh, the president of the Washington Arms Collectors, predicted his side would be heavily outspent but win anyway, in part because he says the campaign will be more grass-roots and easier to understand than the other side’s.
The gun-rights initiative is a half-page of clear language, Rodabaugh said, while the background-check measure is 15 pages long.
Christian Sinderman, a spokesman for the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, expressed confidence as well.
“Theirs is short and it’s easy to understand because it would completely undermine the existing background-check standard at the state level,” Sinderman said. “It’s actually a rollback of background checks, and poll after poll shows that voters want stronger background checks.”
Sinderman added that the provision about confiscation of firearms without due process is a solution in search of a problem.
Gottlieb acknowledged there are no current laws allowing confiscation. But he said it’s important to get the language on the books to guard against future laws.
Earlier this year, state lawmakers considered a bill that would have required residents to give up their guns at times when there was a court-approved protection order against them.
The proposal did not pass.
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal