With Initiative 594 to expand gun-purchase background checks winning by a wide margin, supporters of stricter gun laws want to ride that wave of momentum straight to Olympia.
Gathering Wednesday morning at The Edgewater hotel in Seattle, where only hours before supporters cheered the passage of I-594, advocates for stronger gun laws said in a news conference they will bring more proposals to next year’s legislative session.
“Yesterday’s victory is just the beginning,” said Sandy Brown, president of the board for the Washington-based Center for Gun Responsibility. “It’s the beginning of a permanent movement to reduce the plague of gun violence in Washington state.”
Brown wouldn’t speak to which policies might be pursued. Nor would he say whether they would come as bills or initiatives to the Legislature, like I-594 had been, which could potentially go to a public vote.
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But an advisory council to groups supporting I-594 is crafting proposals and will release more specifics in December.
That momentum could be tempered by the political realities in the Legislature, where Republicans held onto control of the state Senate.
With more votes trickling in, I-594 continued to pass with about 60 percent support. Meanwhile, a competing measure, Initiative 591, which would have barred the state from enacting background checks beyond federal requirements, failed.
No matter what proposals I-594 supporters decide to bring, at least one such bill is slated to be introduced.
Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Seattle, has said she will reintroduce a bill that would make it a crime for someone to leave or store a loaded gun where a child could get access.
“I really do think the vote last night will make people more comfortable with the reasonable need for more gun-safety laws,” Kagi said Wednesday.
She added that last month’s shootings at Marysville-Pilchuck High School emphasized “the importance of locking up your guns.”
Efforts to reach Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snoqualmie and ranking Republican of the House Judiciary Committee, were unsuccessful.
Supporters of stricter gun laws may not find a warm welcome in Olympia.
Lawmakers had a chance to act on I-594 earlier this year before it went to a public vote, but did not.
Another background-check bill died in the House in 2013, and Kagi’s proposal didn’t even get out of the House Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, a member of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, said he doesn’t know how next session lawmakers will react to new proposals.
“You could be skeptical, and there’s certainly basis for skepticism on people’s past reactions,” said Pedersen.
At the same time, I-594 was passing in areas — such as Pierce, Spokane, Whatcom and Whitman counties — that have conservative lawmakers.
“I guess what I’d say is we don’t know yet how the Republicans are going to react,” said Pedersen.
But members of the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus survived challenges from well-funded Democrats and held onto control of the state Senate.
Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Protect Our Gun Rights campaign, says there is plenty of support for gun rights in the Legislature.
“Our bipartisan gun-rights coalition in Olympia is strong,” Gottlieb wrote in an email.
Federal law requires people buying guns from licensed dealers, whether at a store, online or at gun shows, to pass a background check.
But people buying guns through private sales, through classified ads or from an unlicensed dealer at a gun show, are not required to take a background check.
I-594 mandates that the buyer and seller take the transaction to a licensed gun dealer, who can conduct a background check on the buyer.
The initiative is worded so that transfers of guns, like a trade instead of a purchase, also require a background check.
Opponents of I-594 argue that the proposal’s language on what constitutes a gun transfer is so strict that it would criminalize people who hand each other guns in a firearms-safety course, for example.
Gottlieb has said he intends to press lawmakers to change or scrap I-594 and will possibly file legal action against it, though he won’t say when.
“We don’t talk about our legal challenges until they are filed in court,” Gottlieb wrote.
No matter what happens in Washington state next year, I-594 charts a course for those pursuing expanded background checks in other states, according to Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Gross said 17 states with the initiative process also don’t have universal gun-purchase background checks.
“There is a clear path that has been illuminated by this victory in Washington,” said Gross.
Oregon will likely see an initiative for the expansion of background checks if the Legislature does not approve them, Gross added.
That comes in addition to Nevada, where former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s advocacy group, Everytown for Gun Safety, is gathering signatures for an initiative campaign.
Everytown for Gun Safety, which was involved in the I-594 campaign, is also planning initiative campaigns for Arizona and Maine.
Joseph O’Sullivan: 360-236-8268 or email@example.com