Some Washington law-enforcement groups contend that Initiative 1639 is unconstitutional and won't reduce gun violence. But the gun-regulations proposal is supported by top King County law-enforcement officials.
OLYMPIA — Gun-rights advocates are touting opposition of state law-enforcement groups to Initiative 1639 as they seek to build a case against the firearms-restrictions measure on the November ballot.
The National Rifle Association and Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, which have led the campaign against the measure, are highlighting a handful of law enforcement groups against the initiative, including the Washington Council of Police & Sheriffs (WACOPS) and the Washington State Sheriffs Association.
The Washington State Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors Association and the Washington State Patrol Troopers Association also oppose I-1639. And last week, the Washington state Fraternal Order of Police came out against the initiative.
But the measure, which voters will decide in the Nov. 6 election, has support from some of King County’s top law-enforcement officials. Ballots went out last week.
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I-1639 would raise the legal age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle to 21, and would add more background checks, training and a 10-day waiting period to get those weapons. The initiative also includes a section intended to make sure guns are stored more securely at home.
If I-1639 passes, Washington would be among states with the tightest gun regulations.
Law-enforcement groups contend the initiative is unconstitutional and doesn’t address gun violence related to substance abuse or mental health. Some also object that the initiative doesn’t exempt law-enforcement officers from certain provisions, or say the initiative wouldn’t save lives.
“We do not believe that the passage of this initiative is going to make people safer in our community,” said Teresa Taylor, executive director for WACOPS, which represents more than 4,300 law-enforcement officers around the state. Members of the group also believe the initiative could violate the Second Amendment.
Law enforcement isn’t completely against the measure. The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs hasn’t weighed in because it usually stays away from endorsements in firearms initiatives, said Steve Strachan, the organization’s executive director.
The group is generally focused on policy development rather than elections, Strachan wrote in an email. And in the case of I-1639, he added, “Our members have opinions that are divergent on this issue.”
Meanwhile, two of King County’s top law-enforcement officials, Prosecutor Dan Satterberg and Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, have come out in favor of the measure, as has state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Satterberg said accidental shootings — like the one involving a Marysville police officer’s 3-year-old son who shot and killed his 7-year-old sister after getting ahold of the officer’s handgun — show why a safe-storage law is necessary.
In that 2012 case, the officer was tried for second-degree manslaughter, but a jury deadlocked, resulting in a mistrial. The safe-storage provision in I-1639 would establish misdemeanor or felony charges for certain cases where someone prohibited from possessing a firearm accessed it because the owner didn’t secure the weapon.
Many guns used in crimes in King County are obtained by theft, Satterberg said.
“The No. 1 crime prevention we could have in our county is for everyone who lawfully owns a gun to make sure it is locked up in their house,” he said.
Lynnette Buffington, executive director of the Washington state Fraternal Order of Police, said members of her group believe the law should exempt law-enforcement officers from provisions like the safe-storage requirement.
Buffington also said the initiative’s use of the term “assault weapon” would stigmatize guns that law-enforcement officers sometimes carry.
“I do not think it helps to build the bridge between community and law enforcement if there is a narrative among the community that the weapon they use in their duty is an assault weapon,” said Buffington, whose organization represents 2,600 members in the state.
Taylor and Buffington both said their groups are more focused this year on defeating another ballot measure, Initiative 940, that would make it easier to prosecute law-enforcement officers who have been found to wrongfully kill someone.
The NRA, aided by donations from the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, has raised about $490,000 in cash and in-kind donations for its opposition to I-1639, campaign-finance records show. Two other campaigns opposing the initiative have raised an additional $83,000.
The campaign supporting I-1639 has raised more than $5.1 million, with much of that money coming from a handful of big-dollar Washington state donors such as venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul Allen, who died last week.
If voters approve the initiative, gun-rights advocates will try to stop it in the courts, said Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation and Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.
The Second Amendment Foundation and NRA earlier this year challenged the initiative in an attempt to keep it off the ballot. A Thurston County judge agreed with them, but the state Supreme Court reversed that ruling and put the initiative before voters.
Gottlieb in an email declined to discuss the potential legal arguments for challenging I-1639, writing: “We will not telegraph details to the gun-prohibition lobby.”
But, he wrote, “Yes, 1639 will be challenged in court if it passes.”