Election 2014: Washington Gun Sale Restrictions

Voters in Washington state are poised to go where lawmakers have refused to dare as they prepare to vote for a citizen-led ballot initiative to strengthen gun control in the state. Initiative 594 mandates that background checks are run on every person purchasing a gun in Washington, including purchases made at gun shows, online or through private sale.

Though growing in popularity with millions in backing from some of Washington's wealthiest citizens, the initiative faces opposition from a competing pro-gun ballot measure, Initiative 591, which threatens to cancel out the gun safety provisions in 594.

Should 594 pass, it would mark the first time that residents would successfully bypass their state lawmakers—who have been immobile on the issue of gun sale restrictions, despite widespread public support—potentially ushering of a new way of taking on the powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA).

Additional Common Dreams coverage of this issue can be found here.


WASHINGTON: Initiative 594

The Basics

If approved by voters, Initiative 594 would mandate that background checks are run on every person purchasing a gun in the state of Washington, including purchases made at gun shows, online or through private sale. The measure also requires that dealers who are facilitating gun transfers receive written confirmation from the chief of police or sheriff that the purchaser "is eligible to possess a pistol [...] and that the application to purchase is approved by the chief of police or sheriff." The law exempts transfers between immediate family members or of antique firearms. Currently, background checks in Washington state are required only for sales by licensed firearm dealers.

Ballot Question

This measure would apply currently used criminal and public safety background checks by licensed dealers to all firearm sales and transfers, including gun show and online sales, with specific exceptions. 

Should this measure be enacted into law?

The full summary of Initiative 594 can be found here.

Yes on 594

  • The Yes on 594 campaign is being led by the organization Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility. A full list of supporters can be found here.
  • Yes of 594 has raised over $9.5 million in contributions, much of which was donated following the October 24 Washington school shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School.
  • Some of Washington's richest residents have donated to the campaign, including: $1 million from Bill and Melinda Gates, $1 million from entrepreneur Nicolas Hanauer, $500,000 from both Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Former New York City Mayor and gun control proponent Michael Bloomberg has also contributed $285,000 to the measure, and his national group Everytown for Gun Safety is backing the measure.
  • Arguing for the measure, the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility writes: "There is a hole in our laws that allow criminals and other dangerous people to go to 'private sellers' at gun shows, on the Internet, and elsewhere to buy guns with no background check and no questions asked. Law enforcement agencies and public safety officials agree that this loophole promotes illegal gun trafficking and enables individuals with criminal intent to purchase firearms."

No on 594/ Initiative 591

  • The No on 594 campaign is being spearheaded by both local and national chapters of the NRA. The group NRA of America Washingtonians Opposed to I-594 has raised nearly $500,000 as of October 22, with the top contributor being the NRA.
  • Much of the opposition to Initiative 594 has been focused on a competing measure, Initiative 591.

WASHINGTON: Initiative 591

The Basics

Under 591, government agencies would be prohibited from "confiscating guns or other firearms from citizens without due process, or from requiring background checks on firearm recipients unless a uniform national standard is required." 

As of October 27, the group Protect Our Gun Rights, which is leading the campaign in support of the initiative, has raised over $1.2 million.

According to Seattle and King county prosecutor Dan Satterberg, if both Initiative 594 and 591 pass, "Initiative 591 effectively cancels out 594."

Ballot Question

This measure would prohibit government agencies from confiscating guns or other firearms from citizens without due process, or from requiring background checks on firearm recipients unless a uniform national standard is required.  Should this measure be enacted into law?

A full summary of the measure can be found here.

Polling

RECENT POLLS
DATE POLLSTER YES ON 594 NO ON 594 YES ON 591 NO ON 591
4/9/2014 - 4/13/2014 Elway Poll 72% 19%  55% 33%
10/6/2014 - 10/9/2014 Elway Poll 60% 32%  39%  44%
10/17/2014 - 10/24/2014  KCTS9-Washington Poll  64%  31%  45.4% 43.4%